Fun: it’s Serious Business

“Dumb Fun.” It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. It’s associated with horror movies and action flicks, with videogames, with mass-market paperbacks and bubblegum pop. It just is. It’s dumb fun, a guilty pleasure, an indulgence.

But why?

Sure, there’s plenty of media that lacks artistic substance, that succeeds because “it’s so bad it’s good.” Other works might appeal to a very limited crowd because they’re based off of a franchise with a small following, or because it deals with a specific experience or fantasy. But what about works that are just trying to be fun? What is the stigma in that?

Look at something like Fast & Furious. Everybody knows that the series doesn’t really take itself seriously: it is a vehicle for over-the-top action, fast cars, and cheesy characters. But does that make it stupid? Does it make a person stupid for enjoying it? The films do not lack skill. Creating an intense chase scene is no small feat – building a franchise that constantly seeks to up the ante is amazing.

Making something fun is not easy. Heck, “fun” is difficult to define, let alone produce. To set out on a project thinking “I want this to be fun” and then delivering is pretty impressive. It’s even more impressive to make a profit doing it. Yet fun is considered dumb, especially when it sneaks into art.

There seems to be this assumption that art must somehow be “deep,” specifically by being shocking, disturbing, or sad. Art can be beautiful, but it cannot stoop to the lowness of being “fun.” But why not? Art is supposed to reveal something about life, isn’t it? Why can’t it reveal that life is, in fact, fun? It may not be fun all the time, but life certainly isn’t sad or horrific all the time either.

My point is, fun is a complex thing. It is an elusive thing. Sometimes dumb things are fun, but we shouldn’t discard the experience of fun itself. Creating fun is an art unto itself, and it should be treated as such.

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Programming Culture: From A Conversation

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I was talking with my father about my experiences taking CS courses for college and the conversation turned to programming languages, their uses, and their problems. I mainly talked about how hard it was to get used to writing code in a classroom setting, especially when the professors didn’t allow students to work together, but I remember something my dad said about programming languages.

It boiled down to this: why is there such little innovation in programming development? Why do we keep using programming languages that operate off of the same basic frameworks when they are so obviously inefficient in so many different fields. I’ve heard these qualms from other people too: Neil Stephenson and Jaron Lanier have both discussed how, while our hardware advances at an incredible rate, software development seems to crawl. But while many would argue that this comes from corporate models, the necessity of iterative design, or simple inefficiency, my dad had a different explanation:

Many programmers are too proud to move forward.

He was saying that too many programmers ended up learning obscure or (overly) complex languages or software and, because this knowledge can be valuable in the fields where it’s usable, they become attached to these skills. This attachment, this pride, can stifle innovation. Why give up your bragging rites if the code still works?

This is obviously an oversimplification – not all of the problems in programming can be attributed to simple pride. But I think there’s some truth here. Anyone who has looked up anything about programming languages have probably encountered the forum wars that occur between programmers (“Perl is better than Python,” “C++ beats Java every time”). Even I have to admit that I feel pretty proud when I do basic things in Unity or Gamemaker, because I know that other people can’t do those things.

Does this culture exist in the academic world? Probably not to the same degree, but it’s still there. And it’s probably not the healthiest culture to encourage innovation. Being proud of your skills is one thing, but putting aside the opportunity to improve your tools for the sake of your ego is something entirely different.