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September 20, 2011


Robert Plante

I literally just read the MDA the other day because we are deconstructing games for my Game Criticism and Analysis class. But you're right, the fact of the matter is game designers are not necessarily focused on the mechanics first, then the dynamics, then the aesthetics. As you pointed out that doesn't quite work right since without an idea of what the product is to look like finished, how can one start?

Basically it is both more compelling and productive to establish the overall play experience that we would like to provide and then go both ways from there (mechanics polish). At least in our class we pretty much start with the dynamics (or play experience really) and branch off to mechanics and polish from there.


I'm not sure MDA is meant as a design process so much as a design vocabulary. Design vocabulary is essential, and frequently undervalued. Although the paper offers examples of it's uses, ultimately It's for communication. As such it's workflow agnostic.

Are people using it as a fixed development guide (M->D->A)? I haven't heard it expressed that way except here.

What actually bothers me about that paper (and this is a quibble) is that it fundamentally misses the aesthetic of monopoly. In that light, examples seeking to "fix" monopoly within the MDA framework. This is not a direct result of the MDA framework, but perhaps is a byproduct of its functionalist language.

Read the true history of monopoly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly_(game)

It is an essential lesson.

Perhaps an adjunct game development model (one that I use) might be Agent -> Game -> Result.

Agent = The incoming individual player OR the community, market, group of meerkats etc who will play the game.
Game = MDA
Result = The resulting player, community, world, aids cure, etc...

Simon Strange

Chris - I would love to agree with you. This line of thinking started when I read another blog which waxed philosophical about how designers don't understand their players - because of the inverted MDA/ADM view problem. I thought to myself "No way does the MDA paper actually support that conclusion - I'll read it and find the contradiction."

So I grabbed the original material and discovered that it does, indeed, directly state that designers and players are at odds in this way.

Later on, when describing some specific examples, the paper reverses that position and suggests that designers need to work from both perspectives... so it contradicts itself a bit. Perhaps that is the influence of multiple authors?

Graham Jans

This is probably way past old now, but I'm just doing some exploration of MDA and figure I'll plop down my stream of thoughts here:

It seems to me that one of the main 'features' of MDA is that there is a left-to-right causal relationship. Mechanics cause Dynamics cause Aesthetics.

The nature of causality is that we always perceive result first. Whether designer or player, our first encounter with the artifact is aesthetic. From this we can discover dynamics, and from this we can discover mechanics, because we are travelling up the causal chain. Likewise, when we design, we are (or at least should be) chasing a result -- this is basically what you are saying, and I agree. There is a thing we want to happen, so we need to reverse-engineer the causal chain to make it happen.

However, changes can only be made at the left of the chain, in the mechanics. So when we actually touch the artifact, we first affect mechanics, and the change flows to the right.

If a person wanted to boil these things down, they'd probably come up with that stereotypical MDA diagram with the designer and the player and the two arrows; but I'm hesitant to mash the two views together so easily. No simple alternative is coming to mind just yet; I have ideas but I hate oversimplifying before I really understand something.

Simon Strange

Graham - You seem to understand both the MDA concept and my objection to it's "directional" presentation in some literature. Cool.

The interpretation you are struggling with is one I'm well familiar with - it's similar to Zemo's paradoxes of motion. We can only "touch" the Mechanics, so it seems like describing things in terms of mechanics makes sense.

But, in my 14+ years of experience making games, I've never once been able to really touch the mechanics in a pure sense. I'm always reaching around past Aesthetics to do so. So even though I think there is merit in talking about Mechanics, just as there is merit in talking about how individual atoms of my body move when I walk, I've never used those concepts directly as part of a design process.

I majored in Physics in college, and when describing EM fields with Maxwell's Equations, we never used the concept of individual electrons - though we frequently talked about electrons as mnemonic metaphores. I think "Mechanics" are similarly obfuscated by actual games, and actual experiences.

All of which is to say, I think it's fine to hold both ideas at once.

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