We are learning machines, and we get dopamines from learning. When we understand something, possibly to overcome an obstacle, we feel good because of the dopamine release in our brains. Too easy, and we’ll get bored. Too hard, and we’ll get frustrated. All of these are emotional responses.
There are several ways of explaining how we learn stuff, but a popular high level concept model is the game/feedback loop. I first came about that with Perron’s The Heuristic Circle of Gameplay, but for this post I will just link to Daniel Cook’s game loop.
As you can see, you can’t have feedback and mental model (aethetics - WHY)—an interpretation of what your perceive, that together creates an emotional response—without action (dynamics - HOW) and rules (mechanics - WHAT). When first perceiving a game (or, more generally, a task), we can rarely start at the mechanics. Instead …
… we get a game pitch, which we combine with previous experiences that creates our expectations. Thinking that doing the dishes is boring … or it’s meditative. Pitch and expectations then forms our thoughts when we take in the rules, because we interpret the rules through that “filter”.
However, as a game designer, you normally start with an idea of what you would like, create mechanics and then see what kind of emotional response you get from the dynamics (interaction) between all components of the game (may it be participants, rules, or world). I made several games that taught me how to play them, because I broke into uncharted territory of how to play roleplaying games. I also had to start to think about WHY they are fun, in order to find my target audience for them.
Because it’s important, which is basically what MDA is all about for me, to realize that a clear majority of players will see your creation from another standpoint. That’s why it’s so important to playtest, not only to see if the dynamics creates the correct emotions (from learning), but to see how the players perceive your game to begin with. It’s also important to acknowledge that players aren’t there because of the mechanics, but what the game stands for, and that’s how you should pitch/explain your game.
A pause from life to seek enlightenment;
soothing splashing and hand to eye coordination;
do the dishes!