January 28, 2009

Glossary: Game Mechanics

Defining terms is an important step in the design process. There are some concepts for which I find it useful to create new or more specific definitions when discussing game design. See a collection of all glossary posts, here.

Game Mechanics
At its most basic level, game design is presenting a player with carefully selected stimuli, with the intention of encouraging a response behavior that the player enjoys.
Game Mechanics: Any stimuli the game presents a player with, in the hopes of encouraging or discouraging certain gameplay.
All games are made up of at least one mechanic; it's impossible to have a game without them.
A game mechanic that doesn't modify or reinforce player behavior is a bad mechanic, by this definition. A mechanic that intends to reinforce a particular behavior but ends up encouraging a different behavior is also a bad mechanic.
The standard game of Tag only has 2 mechanics:
  1. One player is "It"
  2. If the player who is It tags another player, that player is now "It"

Mechanics vs. Rules

Aren't these just the same thing? What's the point of using the fancier word?

All game rules are game mechanics, it's true. However, the reason I think the term mechanics is more useful here is because there are many other types of stimuli that I count as game mechanics, even though they'd never be considered rules.

For example, level design, audio, and UI can encourage certain player behavior, so they are important to utilize as game mechanics. When we only think in terms of rules, it's easy to forget the subtler game mechanics such as these. For that reason, I find it more useful to ignore the concept of rules entirely and only refer to mechanics.


Eolirin said...

Well, I think a case can be made that level design can actually fall under the rules heading. It sets out boundaries that define and lock in player behavior. It defines where you can and cannot move, what you can and cannot do in terms of the environment, etc, etc.

So I'd say that level design is as much of a rule as the statement that you move around a Monopoly board in a clockwise direction. It's just a very complex and nuanced rule (set of rules more accurately). :)

Mike Darga said...

Yep, it's really just a difference in word choice. I think the definition matters less than just using these terms consistently, which is why I wanted to define a few for use here.