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MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek

I have realised that there are different approaches to the 'fun' element in games by different scholars.

In MDA approach the 'fun' element is directly linked to the aesthetics of a game, and positioned as a result of basic humane needs or interests. It is stated that mechanics support the overall gameplay dynamics, and dynamics are exploited for making the aesthetic experiences of a game possible, generating 'fun' during consumption by the player. While in the book of A Theory of Fun for Games Design by Raph Koster, it is suggested that the 'fun' element in games rises from the act of learning.

In the book Raph Koster emphasises that the games create hypothetical realities to teach us new skills for survival within this reality simulation, which in my opinion links the 'fun' element more to the dynamics rather than the aesthetics of a game. An implication from the approach of Raph Koster would be: "Aesthetics exist to create dynamic experiences," and this is different from what MDA approach suggests: "Dynamics exist to create aesthetic experiences."


Design methodologies guide us through the creative process and help us generate quality results.

Iterative, qualitative and quantitative analyses: Analyze the end result > refine implementation > analyze the implementation > refine the result

Systematic coherence: when conflicting constraints are satisfied, and each of the game's parts can relate to each other as a whole.

Compared to other entertainment products, the consumption of games is relatively unpredictable. When the product is finished, the string of events that will occur and their outcome are unknown.

Formalisation of game consumption by the MDA framework:

Rules / Mechanics (components) --> System / Dynamics (behaviour acting on player inputs) --> 'Fun' / Aesthetics (emotional responses)

Games are systems that build behaviour via interaction: Content of a game is its behaviour - not the media that streams out of it towards the player.

Designer's perspective: mechanics --> dynamic behavior --> aesthetic experience

Player's perspective: the tone is set by aesthetics --> observable dynamics --> operable mechanics

Experience-driven design: thinking about the player's perspective as well

Aesthetics | Why different games appeal to different players?

'Fun' Taxonomy (general): Sensation (sense-pleasure), Fantasy (make-believe), Narrative (drama), Challange (obstacle), Fellowship (social), Discovery (curiosity), Expression (self), Submission (pastime)

Dynamics | Exist to create aesthetic experiences

Mechanics | any component afforded to the player within the game context

Consequently, a desired change in any of the three levels must effect the others.

MDA approach helps us control the outcomes with in the iterative design process and tune for desired behaviour.


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