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March 12, 2005



I am sitting here, completely stunned! Last year, after attending the Game Tuning Workshop I was talking with Mahk and broached the issue of game components that I felt fell outside the MDA model. Then, after the MDA paper was published, I wrote up some thoughts on it and sent them to Robin. In it I posed two hypothetical games based on whack-a-mole: one plucked cartoon daisies, the other popped baby heads into bloody pulps (I wanted the contrast between cute and demented to be dramatic). My argument was that the differences between the two artifacts fell outside the scope of the model. Because the games are significantly different though mechanically the same, it indicates a weakness in the model. But I was unable to attend the tutorial sessions this year. What was the context in which that example was raised? Was it in conversation or was it part of the presentation?

In general I still find MDA to be a nice model for relating player experiences to the game mechanics and I refer to it in the game design chapter of Introduction to Game Development. But I stop short of presuming the model accounts for all aspects of a game—there is nothing wrong with that; "mechanics" can mean just what most already believe it to mean we traditionally think of when we use the word and MDA is no weaker for it. Tim Stellmach pretty much rattled my conviction that a grand unified theory of games is a necessity (in a good way).

Isn't the whole concept of game loops pretty old? I can remember discussing loops a number of years ago and I'm sure someone introduced the idea to me. The whole "intuition" approach is usually paired with an attitude that game design cannot be taught, hardcore uberalis, and everything supported solely by authority arguments (e.g. "I'm So-and-So and, having done This-and-That, hereby decree...") etc.


It was in conversation, after the thing, that he mentioned Whack-A-Baby. And I don't know if you've read *Theory of Fun*, but Raph does a similar thing by turning Tetris into a throw-people-into-a-pit game.


Ah that makes more sense. I couldn't figure out why the example would be raised in the regular session since I still think it highlights a weakness in the model; one that isn't satisfied by just calling it "dressing."

By any chance are you getting mail from your old blog?


Not sure what you mean, getting mail from my old blog. I haven't changed e-mail addresses...


I don't think that the whack-a-mole/pop-a-baby example actually does highlight a weakness of the model. I actually think that it demonstrates a strength of the model.

MDA does not contemplate the difference between whack-a-mole and pop-a-baby as a matter of "dressing." Rather, it illuminates the fact that the important distinction between pop-a-baby and whack-a-mole is the causal relationships between the objects being represented (be they babies or moles) and the user's actions. The user has an important causal role in whacking the mole, which changes the meaning of it. The process by which the player ascribes fictional meaning to the game (i.e. he deduces that he is whacking moles or popping babies) is very much part of the dynamics of the game. That is to say that the experience of whacking a mole is not part the rules of the game, it is part of what happens when you play. The process of human cognition is part of game dynamics.

Using the same art assets for pop-a-baby, one can also create "resurrect-a-baby" and "watch-babies-pop." MDA claims that these are indeed different games, and their difference is a matter of dynamics (i.e. the emergent causal relationships between the objects) and aesthetics (i.e. how the player feels about those relationships).

Why am I chasing down and commenting on a 6-year-old thread, you wonder? I'm actually hoping that you still have the illustrations you made for your whack-a-mole/pop-a-baby document, and that you'd let me use them. I'm thinking about doing a talk on games and meaning.


Jamie Fristrom

Hey Mark -

I'm guessing it's not likely Isaac (I assume he's the one with the doc) will come back and read this thread. e-mail me at jdfristrom at gmail dot com and I'll pass on his e-mail.

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