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In this fast-paced and modern age of wi-fi, live tweets, and diet coke, who really has the time to research and read those wonderful academic papers on the vast world of gaming? Well, I do apparently.

If you’re interested in the multi-faceted world of games design, but can’t bring yourself to read past the abstracts on “them wordy papers”, or if you would just like some recommendations on what to read, look no further as Gamer Limit takes you back to school. Although, if you are reading this at school, then some kind of crazy paradox has happened and you need to click “read more” before you blow up the multiverse.

Still with me? No black holes? Good.

This week I’m looking at some of the issues discussed within “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek. The basis of the paper is looking at a framework of game experience and how that would affect the process of design.

The first step is to break a game down to its basics. Do that and you’re left with:


From board games to video games, and from when to throw the dice to when you have to reload, means every game has rules. All these rules together form the system of your game, and this game (unless this game happens to be Damnation) culminates in fun. From a designer’s point of view, however, these things may be phrased slightly differently, as mechanics are the rules put into play by the developer.

On the other hand, dynamics are a player’s interactions with these rules, and aesthetics are a player’s  emotional reaction to these interactions. To put this into context, the mechanics of a shooter can include weapons, ammunition, and spawn points, and an oh-so-lovable dynamic that can be created from that is camping.


With the titular framework set up, now the question arises: what makes a game “fun”? Not only that, but how do you recognise a specific form of fun when you see it? The paper suggests a “taxonomy of game pleasures”, which is something I probably take too much enjoyment in saying.


    Game as sense-pleasure

  1. Fantasy:

    Game as make believe

  2. Narrative:

    Game as drama

  3. Challenge:

    Game as obstacle course

  4. Fellowship:

    Game as social framework

  5. Discovery:

    Game as uncharted territory

  6. Expression:

    Game as self-discovery

  7. Submission:

    Game as pastime

Now what does this framework actually achieve? One thing is addressing the mechanics for an audience. When considering a simple “tag” game for example, if your market was young children, the aesthetics to aim for would be those of exploration, expression, and discovery.

As you change the audience you have in mind, the aesthetics change, and, as such, will affect how the game is designed. A more adult game, featuring the same “tag” gameplay, perhaps in a Thief or Splinter Cell game, you now have Challenge, Fantasy, and perhaps Fellowship becoming the predominant forces.

So there you have it; you have now seen how a designer thinks. If you would like to read more, the paper is available to read in its entirety , as I only really scraped at the content covered within the paper.

I urge you that the next game you play, consider what mechanics were put into place to make you experience certain aesthetics, then come on back and throw a comment this way, or hop into the forums and talk about it.

  1. I had never thought of games in terms of submission before, but I definitely see all of the others, though some to a larger extent than others. There are very, very few games that bring out any sort of self-discovery–the last of which oddly enough being Shattered Memories.

    The discovery/exploration aspects of games are definitely some of my favorites, and they seem underutilized for the most part. Shadow Complex and Oblivion are the last two games that really made me revel in the joy of discovery–even Fallout 3, as much as I loved it, wasn’t as great with discovery (though it had its moments, for sure.)

  2. don’t forget the bungie designer model

    more of the same>>>new paint job>>>>>$money$

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