Video games are as a media not exactly simple in their construction, as many different elements must go together in order to create a successful whole. This complexity is most likely the reason as to why there still isn’t any proper methodology of analysis within the humanities.
Video games keep growing in popularity, and I therefore believe it’s increasingly important that such a methodology is established and actively used. And yes, you may have guessed it, such a methodology and approach is exactly what I am working on. It is still something that is very much in the making, but my hopes are that when it is finished it will be able to help myself and others in approaching video games when coming from the humanities.
The motivation to create such a model sprung from my own dabbling into video game analysis, and the frustration from general lack of existing methodology. I am more specifically working on a model, partly as a heuristic device, but I am not quite ready to go into further details with it yet. What I will do is talk a bit about some of the theories that will function as the foundation of my up and coming Engagement Model.
This might get a bit heavy, so grab yourself a nice hot drink and prepare yourself.
I will combine two different approaches to video game analysis, as I see them both as valuable in slightly various ways. The one is the MDA (Mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics) approach, and the other is the use of self-determination theory.
MDA illustrates the different layers of functionality within the games construction. Mechanics are the control mechanisms of the game that define actions and behaviours, in other words the rules of the game. The dynamics describes the actions the player makes based on the games mechanics in ways of fulfilling the games winning conditions, in other words the system of playing. Aesthetics is everything to do with emotional, visual, narrative and audio cues in the game.
Since video games are interactive it is rather relevant to ask why we chose to interact with these games. Why do we spend so much time playing? Well, the self-determination approach suggests that it is largely to do with video games effectively fulfilling our intrinsic needs for autonomy, competence and/or connectedness. In other words feeling a freedom of choice and impactful decisions, feeling competent at something and the ability to acquire a desired outcome, and fulfilling the need to be in a social environment in which we are accepted and appreciated. Different games fulfil different needs, and different people feel the need to fulfil some motivations more than others when playing a game. I.e Pac-Man mostly fulfils the need for competence, whereas Sims more adequately affects our autonomy, and World of Warcraft aides the need for connectedness.
A games MDA are all a part of the designers attempt to satisfy these needs by challenging the player, setting up social engagements or creating a space for the players to express themselves. Therefore, if the MDA is off cue a game could become less enjoyable. The mechanics might not be adjusted quite right, which could make the game too difficult, and this will result in a less enjoyable game for the majority of people because they aren’t able to beat it and therefore do not feel competence. Another example could be an open world game with lacking game mechanics, and in such a case these mechanics might make the game-play feel to restrictive and therefore not give the player the sense of autonomy needed to make the game really enjoyable.
This should give you a general idea of where I am going with my methodological model, where I wish to emphasise the importance of remembering the actual complexity of video games. We must therefore approach them from several different angles all the way from a games mechanics, to how we as a player perceive the video game world aesthetically. Of course not all elements are equally as important to every video game. It varies as a result of the genres diversity, but none of these elements should be entirely neglected, as they all have a part to play in every game. And this is exactly what I hope illustrate and achieve with the Engagement Model.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more nerdy insights into the world of video games.
Hunicke, Robin. LeBlanc, Mark. Zubek, Robert. MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
Rigby, Scott. Ryan, Richard M. Glued to Games: How video games draw us in and hold us Spellbound.