Hard Fun

What is fun? What is hard fun? Is there easy fun? Gaming and games-based learning uses the fun of games, the joy of engagement, and the thrill of overcoming challenges as powerful motivators to get students to meet learning outcomes.

What is fun?

Fun at its core is enjoyment that someone gets from activities.  Strangely enough, there is no real logical basis for the purpose of fun.  Most people find fun as an enjoyable distraction: preferably diverting both the mind and body from stress or boredom of everyday life.

While fun is usually associated with recreational activities it can also be experienced from a person’s work, social life, and even games.

Fun is an experience: one that brings pleasure from the things that a person engages in.  Fun is also complex as it has both physical and psychological implications.

Fun is powerful. It can be used to drive behavior and is an integral component of player motivation in games-based learning.

What is motivation?

Fun is a critical part of motivation. After all – why do people play games to begin with? Most play for fun. That fun is part of their motivation to first engage and then repeat their behavior.

So, motivation can be understood as a “construct” or something that is created as a way to understand human behavior in the same way we define fun and enjoyment. 

Motivation as a whole, represents an individual’s needs, desires, and eventual actions.

What is easy fun?

There are at least two different types of fun: hard fun and easy fun. We generally experience easy fun from doing relaxing activities like watching TV, reading, and lounging around. These are the types of activities where we are involved… but not actively.

Specifically, easy fun is not about investing ourselves too much into the activity.  Instead, we just view it as a past time: something to do to that is relaxing and stress free.

In short: easy fun is… well, easy!

What is Hard Fun?

Hard Fun? Well, it’s strange to think about.  If something is fun then it shouldn’t be hard right? Not true. Hard Fun is what really defines games and how they draw players.

Hard fun is challenging and difficult. Hard fun is a hard to excel at – but when we do we feel exhilarated – much more than we feel when we pursue easy fun.

Hard fun is the heart of flow state and motivation for players to pursue challenges in games.

Like games, life is full of hard fun challenges. The better we excel at these, the more we feel validated and accomplished in life.

Hard Fun in everyday life

Hard fun is what makes the challenges of everyday life more fulfilling. Sometimes those challenges are REALLY tough like making a New Year’s Resolution to lose some weight or to get more exercise. Some of those challenges are a little easier like drinking a glass of water when we get up in the morning.

But HARD FUN is what makes challenges like running a marathon, hiking a mountain, acing a test, or getting a job offer more engaging.  It’s the work that we put into the activity along the way that gives us that rush of endorphins when we finally succeed.

THAT is what HARD FUN is all about.

Using hard fun to encourage engagement

Hard Fun is a great way to encourage students to become engaged in different opportunities around campus. Most of my work is about getting students to participate in student activities, clubs, organizations, and other opportunities the college offers.

All of these activities are potential applications for HARD FUN.  The ability for students to engage, participate, and compete allows individuals to demonstrate how they can apply what they have learned to overcome challenges.

The process of overcoming these challenges in a fun and engaging way is what makes games great. HARD FUN is what makes games great!


Gaming and games-based learning uses the fun of games and the joy that comes from play in order to get students to reach learning outcomes. Fun comes in at least two forms: easy fun and hard fun. Hard Fun is what really drives engagement.  The challenge of an obstacle combined with the thrill of overcoming it is an experience that drives motivation.

Unlike easy fun, hard fun emphasizes challenge, support, and overcoming challenges.

While games rely on “artificial” objectives – anyone can use HARD FUN to setup challenges in their everyday life to drive their own “game-like” behavior.

The process of testing yourself to overcome challenges is very basis of HARD FUN. Hard Fun is what makes games great and life’s challenges worth overcoming!

Dave Eng

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