30th July 2018

Designing games with your silent partner

I love a good framework. I’ve used a few in my time, and one I am finding very useful at the moment is the (Design, Play, Experience) DPE model for designing games for learning. This grew out of an earlier model – MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics), which describe the game in terms of the relationship between designer and player, and the game characteristics and behaviours which emerge from that relationship. The designer designs the mechanics and rules of the game (Mechanics). When playing, the player acts upon those, their inputs influenced by, for example, their own past experiences. From this interaction emerges the behaviours (Dynamics) of the game.

The Aesthetics component is what is interesting me most at the moment. This does not relate to the visual appearance of a game, as you might expect at first glance, but to the emotional response of the player to the Dynamics of the game. ‘Aesthetics’ was changed to ‘Affect’ in the DPE model precisely to avoid this confusion.

As a designer it is important to recognise that I have no control over, and cannot directly design this aspect of the game. In fact, the only component the designer has any control over in this model is the Mechanics. This was one of the most valuable lessons I learned when I first started using this model. Games design is an absorbing process; an iterative process of problem solving and creating complex systems (anyone who has ever had to create an in-game economy will be nodding sagely now). It is easy to become totally engrossed in this ‘hard fun’ (if you are drawn to games design, you will probably find this fun) process and lose sight of your silent partner – the player.

Sometimes, you might find it impossible to see the experience from the player’s point of view, and that’s a risk. The solution to this – fail quickly. Get some players and test. Test as often as you can. If you can, join or start a games design group. The insights you will gain into the Aesthetics which emerge from your Mechanics will be well worth the effort.

Image from Gideon on Flickr

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