Robin Hunicke recently posted the Mechanics – Dynamics – Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research paper that was used as part of the game tuning workshop at GDC. It’s a co-authored thing by Robin herself, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek.
It’s a very precise description of a few of the most basic issues with games: The relation between the rules of the game [mechanics] and what actually happens [dynamics] (sometimes even referred to as emergence), and the experience of the player [aesthetics].
This is the kind of thing that people (myself included) have often gotten tangled into – are games open or closed? Is a game even interactive? Why talk about the game itself when games are really experiences? … and so on.
The MDA framework is a pretty good way of escaping such problems:
Mechanics describes the particular components of the game, at the level of data representation and algorithms.
Dynamics describes the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on player inputs and each others’ outputs over time.
Aesthetics describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when she interacts with the game system.
Short and sweet.
P.S. Ever the ingrate, I do miss two things in the paper: 1) It’s very system-oriented – it would be nice to see how the mechanics connect to fiction. 2) The paper describes the player and the designer as working from opposite ends – the designer creates mechanics that lead to dynamics that lead to aeshetics, the player works the other way. I think the player experiences the game a bit more like a multi-layered package of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics – the aesthetic experience can even arise from watching the relation between the mechanics and the dynamics.