To clarify, I’m not implying that some mechanics are more appreciated than others (although this might certainly be the case). What I’m trying to say is that we use “mechanics” (such as crouching, aiming, and shooting) without really understanding what they are and how they’re different from other elements of the game. Mind you, this does boil down to mostly arbitrary, meaningless naming and defining, BUT this can help Game Studies scholars analyze games and communicate with each other. It can also potentially amount to a bunch of fluff that only confuses people, and definitions can constrain the way people think about topics, but if they’re done with precision and with deliberation, definitions can streamline the research process.
Defining game elements has proven to be a decidedly tricky process. This applies to terms such as play, game, immersion, narrative, rules, mechanics, goals, world, etc. The malleability of such key terms has hindered Game Studies somewhat as researchers always have to define these game elements for themselves, and then they must explain these definitions to their audience. So far, Game Studies definitions are even less than provisional, they’re temporary. As the author of the article I just read points out, ” This lack of conceptual precision points to a definitional problem: it is unclear what game mechanics are, and how the term can be used in game analysis.” However, the instability of these conventions affords scholars room to think independently, so there are some benefits.
I’m really picky with definitions because they’re so easy to unravel, but I can appreciate a rigorously thought out definition, which is exactly what I found in Miguel Sicart’s article, which is aptly titled “Defining Game Mechanics.” I’ve gone through like 2 years worth of research articles, and this is the first one I’ve deemed worthy of writing about (which is why I haven’t posted in like 2 weeks). Sicart’s goal with this article is to “define game mechanics, using concepts from object-oriented programming, as methods invoked by agents, designed for interaction with the game state. With this formalized definition, I intend to:
- Provide a tool to discover, describe, and interrelate game mechanics in any given game.
- Define mechanics also in relation to elements of the game system, game hardware and player experience, mapping mechanics to input procedures and player emotions.”
If you’re familiar with object-oriented programming, then this article will be easier to understand. If not, don’t worry; this article is still pretty accessible and straightforward. The author begins by pointing out that game mechanics have been defined before, and he builds off of past definitions by pointing out their short-comings while borrowing the aspects that do work (for him). He then describes his own definition and how it incorporates other concepts, such as primary, secondary, and sub-mechanics. The third part of this article uses his definition of game mechanics to pick apart Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico, 2005), Rez (United Game Artists, 2002), and Every Extend Extra (Q Entertainment, 2006). Then, like a total boss, he analyzes the results achieved through his definition of game mechanics, and he points out what he believes to be the short comings of his own definition.
Overall, what impressed me the most about this article was the author’s caution and attention to detail while outlining his definition of game mechanics. He makes it clear that he doesn’t think his definition is “the one,” but he does believe that it is more precise and useful than definitions used in the past.
Honestly, I could probably write more, but it’d be more regurgitation than even I feel comfortable with, so i I’ve piqued your interest, then check out this accessible and rigorous analysis of game mechanics and the process of defining them.