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Reclaiming "social games"

games about the humans who play them · By droqen

my take on MDA framework

A topic by droqen created Oct 01, 2018 Views: 217 Replies: 7
Viewing posts 1 to 6
(4 edits)

https://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf

I can't help myself: every time I talk about design, now, I fall into explaining the way I see MDA so that we can be on the same page, using the same terms. To be honest, I only even reference the first two pages, where they define these three terms:

  • "Mechanics describes the particular components of the game, at the level of data representation and algorithms."

In a video game, this covers not just the code but also all the assets. In a board game, this category includes the rules as well as the physical pieces. To me, this is a clear and distinct category -- no more mushy fuzzy "is this a mechanic" "what is a mechanic" etc.

TBH I think that to call any individual thing a "mechanic" is sort of misleading and confusing, because is an entire movement system a "mechanic", or is the jump button a "mechanic"? They nest within each other and flex and flow. If I say something is a "mechanic", it's just a convenient label describing any thing or group of things which are part of the game's mechanics.

  • "Dynamics describes the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on player inputs and each others' outputs over time."

Later the PDF (linked at top) more explicitly includes player actions and tactics in this element. This is the game as it's played: the events that occur, the choices its players make, the resultant situations that arise.

I like to think of this as my favourite category, the one I want to pay the most attention to; it's what first defined games as distinct from other formats. It's not that reading a book has no dynamics: turning a page is a dynamic. But innovating on dynamics are part of the mainstream artform of games, and I think that's fascinating.

  • "Aesthetics describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when she interacts with the game system."

Replace the word fun completely, because fun is highly variable between individuals. Rather than ask "is the game fun?" or "why isn't this fun?", consider instead what emotional response you're hoping for. Instead start to ask "why doesn't playing this feel good?" or "why doesn't playing this feel RIGHT?"


I stumbled upon MDA when I was trying to figure out a definition of "game mechanic" which I agreed with. This was the best one because it didn't present a singular definition in a vacuum, but in the context of this little framework. I like this definition because it tells me what a game mechanic isn't.

Hopefully you find this useful too.

Oh I like this! The distinction between these categories is clear & useful. The use of the word "aesthetic" for that definition feels weird to me though, because I think the appearances of things are actually part of the mechanics, yeah? 

That's been the worst sticking point for when I try to bring up MDA stuff in casual conversation tbh T_T

"The appearances of things" is a pretty open sentiment. I like to think it's part of dynamics to observe something and interpret what it is, and part of aesthetics to feel a certain way about that interpretation. The framework was not designed to be applied to the world in this way, but I like to do so anyway.

End of the day tho MDA is still using the term in a way that's not quite congruous to the common understanding of it ;P and that takes some getting used to.

moved this topic to (Design...)

Yeah totally. I don't mind a formal framework having weird definitions of words (I have plenty) but it can definitely make it hard to relay to people. 

Yeah mechanics sort of becomes like the word problematic unless explicitly scoped down. These seem like useful definitions! I actually work out of the same space as Robert Zubek & the SomaSim folks, I'll have to ask him if he still uses this framework :)

Ooh, that would be interesting. Did you ever ask?

He said he mostly doesn't describe things that way anymore. IIRC he said Mechanics, Gameplay, and Player Experience, but I think it's mostly because nobody uses those words Mechanics Dynamics and Aesthetics, not because it was an inadequate framework of thinking about game design. :P

Makes sense :) I'll stick w/ these arcane words because I'm stubborn and like being confusing, thanks for letting me know what he said! o: