“The game itself has nothing to do with the gaming experience being fun: it’s the people at the table that make the experience rewarding.”
This is a really disturbing one. If it is true, then why bother buying, reading, explaining to fellow gamers and somehow using a game text at all? Why waste time, energy and money when all that matters in the end is to have participants that ensure the activity is fun and rewarding? This idea has some truth to it, but seems to be the result of confusion about the role of the game in the fun generation process.
Sure, you need to enjoy the company of your fellow gamers to have a good gaming experience. If you hate or despise the people you play with, don’t go counting on the game to make up for that and help you have fun regardless of which people you’re playing with. Also true is the fact that players who invest themselves in the activity and deliver great performances (be it acting, resources managing or efficient tactical choices) will make the experience more enjoyable. Once again, the rules cannot guarantee that people will engage the game to the fullest of their capabilities. Thus, if the quality of the experience is so intertwined with the performance and the personality of the participants, what are the rules good for?
Let’s take an example in another domain; team sports. You’ll have most fun playing a team sport when your teammates and you take it somewhat seriously and give it your best shot. The rules don’t dictate your level of commitment to the sport nor does the equipment. But what the rules and the equipment do is provide a context for you to perform in. Rules tell you what you can and cannot do, they explain the goal of the sport and what are the means and conditions to achieve it (for example, how to score points). They don’t tell you how to outsmart your adversary even though they encourage you to do so. But they do give you a frame of reference for you to judge your performance and get feedback. In essence, they give a purpose and a meaning to your behaviours in the course of a social event.
Moreover, we can find another example of the impact of the game on our enjoyment of the experience by thinking about the games we don’t like. If the only thing that matters is playing with people we like to hang out with, why is that we dislike certain games? Wouldn’t all games be fun and enjoyable, then? After all, so long as you keep playing with people you like you should have fun no matter what.
The reason why I’m having fun is that I’m interacting with you in a certain way and that interaction is shaped by the rules of the game. That particular brand of fun wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for you AND the game.