Games Are Like Onions

but not really. However, one way to conceptualize a game is to divide the “core” game play aspects from their representational “shell” ( I know onions don’t have shells). Before diving into this post, you might want to check out Understanding through games.

The “core” game play is the most crucial aspect of a game’s identity, yet it is also easily taken for granted. Game play is made up of the rules and mechanics that determine how the game is played. For example, in a game like Risk, the game would be made up of rules such as how many troops one starts out with, how many moves one can make per turn, how troops can move through the map, how many dice can be rolled, what the outcome of the dice roll means, how troops are gained, etc. In a game like Halo, the gameplay is more complex as it involves the physics of the game, the stats of the player character and the enemies, the effects of the different guns, how accuracy and damage are governed and affected by factors such as proximity or movement, and so on.

I said that the “core” is easily taken for granted because some players don’t explicitly acknowledge these factors, or if they do, they do not label these internal rules as what makes up game play. Players are aware that headshots do more damage (in Halo) and that isolated countries are easily defended (in Risk), but, for the most part, players don’t go out of their way to recognize how crucial these factors are to the identity of the game, they just kind of take them for granted. In this sense, labeling the game play as the “core” works in two senses; the “core” greatly determines the identity of the game, and it is also overlooked by the player because it is covered by the “shell” of the game.

The “shell” is also extremely important to a game’s identity. Although not as important as the core, it is the first thing players notice. The visuals, settings, characters, story, music, sound effects– all the aspects of the game that are unnecessary to playing it make up the “shell.” To stick with the same examples, in Risk, the shell includes the countries, the map, the appearance of the troops, etc. Notably, if you were to play the LOTR version of Risk, all these factors would change, but the game play would be the same. In Halo, the shell includes the Master Chief, The Covenant and all the aliens, the way warthogs, plasma rifles, and sticky grenades look, and even the ring world of Halo itself. Also notably, if you were to play Halo Wars, the “shell” would stay the same, but the “core” would change drastically. ( Halo is a first-person shooter, and Halo Wars is a real time strategy game).

At this point, I would start discussing the dialectic between core and shell (enough with the “‘”), but I have made it a point to shorten my blog posts in hopes that readers with less time on their hands will be more inclined to read them. It would also make organization and archiving simpler, I hope.

As we have seen, it is extremely useful to conceptualize games as made up of a core and a shell. This mental exercise allows us to organize and identify how different aspects of a certain game influence the way we experience it through game play or understand it in a representational sense.

However, the core and shell affect each other in a way that problematizes their separation (kinda like when you peel and onion :D). In my next post, I will elaborate on the way the dialectic between core and shell makes up a more practical identity for games that allows us to understand what games might mean culturally and to individual players.

Shout out to Frans Mayra, you already know.


About Alphabet1

always already is
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3 Responses to Games Are Like Onions

  1. Alphabet1 says:


  2. Pingback: Core, Shell, and Culture | Gamer Babylon

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Cold not have said it better myself. I appreciate how deeply you peel the onion of gaming. You are peeling it so hard, that I think I might just cry. Love it!

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