Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics (MDA): The game design theory behind games

Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics (MDA): The MDA is a formal approach to better understand games. It is considered to be the bridge between the game development and the game design.
Why the Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics ? It is helpful to study the Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics because we can break up our game into 3 core categories and work in each category until we have the perfect game.

Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics introduction

One of the main concepts to understand is that the developer create games and players consumes the game. This lead to a specular approach:

Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics

The player gets the game and starts to play it. The play phase from the perspective of the player can be broken into three simple phases:

MDA

The player understands the rules, interacts with the system and starts to have fun.

From the developer’s perspective this lead into 3 counterparts:

Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics

Mechanics: The mechanics describes the “hidden” part of the game. The mechanics are the rules and the interactions described with algorithms and data structures.

 

Dynamics: The dynamics is the part of the mechanics that player can actually see. It describes what the outcome is when the player presses a button or in general sends an input to the game.

 

Aesthetics: The aesthetics describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when the player interacts with the game system.

If we take the player and the developer’s perspective in the MDA framework, we’ll end in this situation:

MDA Player prospecitve

The player starts his experience by seeing the aesthetic part of the game. The player can also interact with the dynamics but never with the mechanics. Due to the fact that this person is making the game, the designer will start from the mechanics and then go up to the dynamics aspect of the game. When working with games, it is very helpful to consider both the designer and player perspectives and try to deliver the best experience for the player. It is also helpful to observe how even small changes in one layer can cascade into others and impact all the game.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics

The Aesthetics describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player,

when she interacts with the game system.
When describing the aesthetics we try to avoid words like “fun“ and “gameplay” towards a more directed vocabulary. This includes but is not limited to the taxonomy listed here:

  1. Sensation: Game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy: Game as make-believe
  3. Narrative: Game as drama
  4. Challenge: Game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship: Game as social framework
  6. Discovery: Game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression: Game as self-discovery
  8. Submission: Game as pastime

 

For example if you take game like Quake, Final Fantasy and The Sims, they are all fun but each one of them has a very different aesthetics components:

 

  • Quake: Challenge, Sensation, Competition, Fantasy.
  • The Sims: Discovery, Fantasy, Expression, Narrative.
  • Final Fantasy: Fantasy, Narrative, Expression, Discovery, Challenge, Submission.

As you can see, each game has multiple aesthetics goals expressed in various degrees.

Dynamics

Dynamics work to create aesthetic experiences. For example, challenge is created by things like time pressure and opponent play. Fellowship can be encouraged by sharing information across certain members of a session (a team) or supplying winning conditions that are more difficult to achieve alone (such as capturing an enemy base).

Dynamics is the vehicle that along with the aesthetics drives the user to the desired experience and it is often used to emphasize aesthetics emotions.

Dynamics are build on top of the mechanics.

 

Mechanics

Mechanics

Mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms afforded to the player within a game context. Together with the game’s content (levels, assets and so on), the mechanics support overall gameplay dynamics.
For example, the mechanics of card games include shuffling, trick-taking and betting  from which dynamics like bluffing can emerge.

 

Conclusion

Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics is a helpful technique to better understand how to categorize our games and specially to anticipate how changes will impact each aspect of the framework and the resulting designs/implementations.
In addition, by understanding how formal decisions about game play impacts the end user experience, we are able to better decompose that experience, and use it to fuel new designs, research and criticism respectively.

Reference: MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research

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