I don’t know about most people, but I play games to get away from things. When I need to relax, one of two things happens: the music comes on or the games come on. We all have stuff that happens in our lives, but how we deal with them is what makes us different (well, one of the things). There’s really no right answer to something like this, so the best we can do is speculate.
But to me, it makes some sense that most people would use games as a means to get away from the real world – to escape into a digitally constructed world of characters that they have control over, a certainty that the real world cannot give. Whether it be your generic (space) marine, brown-tinted, shooter game or something as colorful as Flower, there’s a sense of control that gives peace to people who live in an otherwise chaotic and uncertain world. Some people take it even farther when it comes to things like MMOs, where you not only control events around you, but you also exert your own persona onto the digital world, either with your avatar or with your actions with the environment and other players. In some ways, it’s the ultimate form of escapism.
With games becoming more and more realistic, the line between virtual and reality gets further blurred, to the benefit and detriment of all – benefit for people who want that kind of realism and a detriment for those who get sucked into that world and replace the real one with a virtual one, simply because it looks similar enough, but it can be controlled. This feeling of control, I think, is what draws people in. So is the fun factor in games really a matter of how much control a player has over the game world? It would explain the popularity of strategy and simulation titles. It would explain why people get angry when the player character doesn’t move the way the player wants. But in order to truly explain “fun,” we’d probably have to get into game theory, and I haven’t read enough about that to do it justice. Certainly look it up yourselves if you’re curious!