Analysing games is a fascinating past-time, and a necessary exercise for game designers. How does the game work, what does it do, why do the players enjoy it? While these are all valid questions, it can be difficult to even begin answering them. Games are a complex interactive medium, and call for a more structured way to organise thoughts and questions. Enter game analysis frameworks. In this post, I will explore the three key frameworks used by designers and academia alike: MDA, DDE, and AGE.
MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics, and was put forward by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc and Robert Zubek in 2004. Its aim is to “bridge the gap between game design and development, game criticism, and technical game research” and to “formalize the consumption of games by breaking them into their distinct components”
Their relationship is illustrated as follows:
- Mechanics (or rules) can be described as the “mathematics” of the game: the nuts and bolts that form the rule set, and are effectively the “verbs” that a player enacts (run, shoot, jump, etc.). To analyse a game’s mechanics, we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- How is the game set-up?
- Which actions are available?
- Effect of actions?
- When does it end?
- How is resolution determined?
- Dynamics represent the system put in place by the rules and how it is interacted with by the player; these can encompass challenge, strategy, or frustration, and can be found by exploring the following questions:
- What happens in play when the rules are in motion?
- What are the emerging strategies?
- How do players interact with each other?
- Aesthetics, finally, are the emotions felt by the player when interacting with the game, with the explicit purpose of defining exactly what is “fun”, instead of using this very vague term.These can be explored by examining the following:
- What is the effect of play on the player?
- Is the game boring/engaging? How?
- Is the game emotionally/intellectually engaging? How?The MDA framework offers this non-exhaustive list of potential aesthetic trends:
While the MDA framework opened the door to more structured and in-depth analysis, several issues were found with it:
- The difference between the game shell and gameplay can be difficult to determine
- The difference between dynamics and aesthetics is sometimes difficult to assess
- The MDA framework cannot be fully applied to narrative structures
For these reasons, Wolfgang Walk developed a new framework called DDE: Design, Dynamics, and Experience (Walk, 2015). This framework set-out to address the issues found with MDA, and to focus this time on the perspective of the designer and the designing process, and on the importance of the narrative in a video game., Walk describes the process as follows:
- Design, the iterative start of the game design process, owned by the game designer and comprising of blueprint, specific mechanics and interface
- Dynamics, observing the relationship between the player and the game, the player and the player’s entity in the game, and the game and the game
- Experience, which is another way to describe aesthetics, this time refining the emotional, psychological and physiological aspects triggered by the game
Finally, a third framework as put forward by Roberto Dillon in 2012, the AGE: Actions, Gameplay, Experience (Dillon, 2012). This framework seeks to solve the issue of how to get from mechanics and dynamics to aesthetics, in other words: how can we analyse the player’s reaction to the game in a more efficient way? AGE operates on the basis that emotions trigger instincts, instincts push the players to do an in-game action, and that instincts can thus easily be linked to gameplay.
- 6 basic emotions: fear, anger, pride, joy, excitement, sadness
- 11 instincts: survival, self-identificatipon, rveenge, aggressiveness, curiosity, protection/care, greed, collecting, competition, communication, colour appreciation
Dillon provides the following illustration of his framework:
As we can see, AGE can be a great tool to zoom in on the player experience, and break down the way the game affects the player.
With the MDA framework, a new era of game thinking began, seeking to formalise the way games could be made, and analysed, to the best of the designer’s ability. MDA also sought to be a thought-provoking piece, ideally inspiring new ways to formalise the analysis – and indeed new models have been put forward since, such as AGE and DDE. Which one is best? It will probably depend on the designer’s view of their creation and on the type of game. To be continued!
Dillon, R. (2012). A modern approach to game analysis and design: the AGE framework. [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/robertodillon/the-age-framework [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].
Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M. and Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. [online] Available at: http://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].
Walk, W. (2015). From MDA to DDE. [online] Gamasutra.com. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/WolfgangWalk/20151111/259078/From_MDA_to_DDE.php [Accessed 1 Nov. 2016].