Exactly. To some people or groups “playing the game” includes coming together with friends, chatting, eating snacks, drinking beer, etc. and that is the reason they all come together. Each table has its own kind of culture or way that games are played. For some game-night is very technical and rule focused, for others it’s a very social thing, with a bunch of little small traditions baked in.
In that way, game night can be a reward unto itself. It means hanging out with friends, which, as a person over 30 years old, I must say, is a hard thing to achieve, with all the carriers and babies and duties etc.
I agree that goals in a game aren’t a bad thing at all, but achieving the goal isn’t necessarily the reward, the journey towards it, together is. At least in some groups.
The idea of just letting the fun emerge and seeing that as the reward to play is put here as a challenge. I don’t think games need to abandon any reward structure, because there’s a type of fun to be had in achieving the thing you set out to do. But this challenge, I think, makes you consider, or think, if it could be possible having fun together consistently without a baked in reward system.
I think with story games specifically, whatever you do, story will likely emerge on its own, regardless of wether or not it’s mechanically rewarded, because it’s rewarded by the fun you have doing it.