No Fun: The Queer Potential of Video Games that Annoy, Anger, Disappoint, Sadden, and Hurt


Game designers and scholars alike commonly claim that video games should be first and foremost fun. At the same time, in reactionary corners of gamer culture, the argument that games should be “just for fun” is shutting down discourse around diversity. However, there is much more to video games than fun. It can be argued that video games are the twenty-first century’s most influential art form, and they can and do engender a wide range of feelings, from joy to sadness, annoyance to rage. Although some researchers, such as ludologist Jesper Juul, have acknowledged the prevalence of unpleasant moments in video-game play, they often make sense of these difficult experiences by reframing them as stepping stones on the road to happiness. In this article, I argue for a different approach to affect in video games, one that focuses on experiences that are “no fun.” Drawing from writing by queer theorist Jack Halberstam, I demonstrate how no-fun emotions disrupt accepted paradigms of video games and heteronormative pleasures more broadly. I conclude with a series of examples of no-fun games that illustrate how affect can communicate meaning as effectively and diversely as a game’s content, and how looking at games that go beyond fun creates new space for players, games, and queer worlds at the margins.