Game Mechanics: The MDA Framework

My notes after reading “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek

Game Mechanics

The MDA Framework – Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics – was developed as part of the Game Design and Tuning Workshop at the Game Developers Conference.

The MDA framework formalizes the consumption of games by breaking them into their distinct components:

Rules -> System -> Fun

And establishing their counterparts:

Mechanics -> Dynamics -> Aesthetics

A Design Vocabulary

Mechanics describes the particular components of the game, at the level of data representation of 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 the player interacts with the game system.

Each component of the MDA framework can be thought of as a lens or a view of the game.

From the designer’s perspective, the mechanics give rise to dynamic system behavior, which in turn leads to particular aesthetic experiences. From the player’s perspective, aesthetics set the tone, which is born out in observable dynamics and eventually, operable mechanics.

Game Aesthetics

Sensation – game as sense-pleasure
Fantasy – game as make-believe
Narrative – game as drama
Challenge – game as obstacle course
Fellowship – game as social framework
Discovery – game as uncharted territory
Expression – game as self-discovery
Submission – game as pastime

Dynamic Models – Dynamics work to create aesthetic experiences.

Challenge is created by things like time pressure and opponent play
Fellowship can be encouraged by sharing information across certain members of a session
Expression comes from dynamics that encourage individual users to leave their mark: systems for purchasing, building or earning.
Dramatic Tension comes from dynamics that encourage a rising tension, a release, and a finale.

Mechanics are the various actions, behaviors, and control mechanisms afforded to the player within the context of the game. Together with the game’s content (levels, assets, and so on) the mechanics support overall gameplay dynamics.