Toward a Unified Theory of Digital Games
Since digital games and their scientific study are quite new, many questions concerning the fundamental nature of these phenomena remain. Two often-cited attempts to clarify the fundamental components of games include the Mechanics–Dynamics–Aesthetics Framework and the Elemental Tetrad. This theory development paper attempts to reconcile these two frameworks into a single, clear and cohesive account of the kinds of elements that constitute games. The proposed theory not only includes all of the elements from its source frameworks but also introduces two refinements: (1) it differentiates game mechanics from narrative mechanics; (2) it distinguishes three types of narratives—stories told by the developers through the game, stories that emerge from gameplay and players’ interpretations of game stories. The proposed theory should be useful for teaching game design fundamentals, as a coding scheme for qualitative data analysis and to analyse game design challenges. Subject to further clarification and extension, the proposed model may provide a basis for a general theory of digital games.
KeywordsGame Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics Emergent narrative Embedded narrative General theory Theory development
We would like to thank Carson Woo, Ryan Murphy, anonymous reviewer one and all of the game designers, scholars and players who volunteered feedback on this paper and the theory it proposes.
- Bartle, R. A. (2004). Designing virtual worlds. Indianapolis: New Riders Publishing.Google Scholar
- Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241.Google Scholar
- Canossa, A. (2007). Towards a theory of player: Designing for experience. In B. Akira (Ed.), Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 conference: Situated play. Tokyo: Digitial Games Research Association.Google Scholar
- Canossa, A. (2009). Play-persona: Modeling player behaviour in computer games. Ph.D. dissertation. Copenhagen: Danish Design School of Copenhagen.Google Scholar
- Carlquist, J. (2013). Playing the story: Computer games as a narrative genre. Human IT: Journal for Information Technology Studies as a Human Science, 6(3), 7–53.Google Scholar
- Churchman, C. W. (1971). The design of inquiring systems: Basic concepts of systems and organization. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Cuddon, J. A. (1998). The Penguin dictionary of literary terms and literary theory (4th edn.). London: Penguin.Google Scholar
- Deterding, S., et al. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining ‘gamification’. In Proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference (pp. 9–15): ACM.Google Scholar
- Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. The Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.Google Scholar
- Fall, K. A., Holden, J. M., & Marquis, A. (2004). Theoretical models of counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Brunner-Routledge.Google Scholar
- Fawcett, J., & Downs, F. S. (1986). The relationship of theory and research. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
- Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: an introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.Google Scholar
- Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.Google Scholar
- Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 30(3), 611–642.Google Scholar
- Halverson, R., Shaffer, D. & Squire, K. (2006). Theorizing games in/and education. In Proceedings of the 7th international conference on learning sciences (pp. 1048–1052).Google Scholar
- Hamilton, K. (2014). Yes, you should play the new version of GTA V. Kotaku. http://kotaku.com/yes-you-should-play-the-new-version-of-gta-v-1659433742. Accessed November 19, 2014.
- Hocking, C. (2007). Ludonarrative dissonance in Bioshock. Clicknothing.typepad.com. http://clicknothing.typepad.com/click_nothing/2007/10/ludonarrative-d.html. Accessed July 16, 2013.
- Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M. & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A formal approach to game design and game research. In Proceedings of the AAAI workshop on challenges in game AI. San Jose, CA.Google Scholar
- Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. In N. Wardrip-Fruin & P. Harrigan (Eds.), First person: New media as story, performance, and game (pp. 118–130). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Juul, J. (2001). Games telling stories. Game Studies, 1(1), 45.Google Scholar
- Kearney, R. (2002). On stories. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Madigan, J. (2010). The psychology of immersion in video games. The Psychology of Video Games. http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/07/the-psychology-of-immersion-in-video-games/. Accessed May 12, 2014.
- Michael, D. R., & Chen, S. L. (2006). Serious games: Games that educate, train, and inform. Boston, MA: Thompson Course Technology PTR.Google Scholar
- Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
- Nathanson, D. L. (1992). Shame and pride: Affect, sex and the birth of the self. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
- OED Online. (2015). Oxford University Press. www.oed.com.
- Pearce, C. (2004). Towards a game theory of game. In N. Wardrip-Fruin & P. Harrigan (Eds.), First person: New media as story, performance, and game (pp. 143–153). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Portnow, J. (2012). Extra credits: Aesthetics of play. Penny Arcade, 5(9). http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/aesthetics-of-play. Accessed December 1, 2014.
- Ralph, P. & Monu, K. (2014). MTDA + N—A working theory of game design. First Person Scholar. http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/a-working-theory-of-game-design/. Accessed June 15, 2014.
- Rouse, R., & Ogden, S. (2005). Game design: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury: Jones & Bartlett Learning.Google Scholar
- Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Schell, J. (2008). The art of game design: A book of lenses. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
- Tito, G. (2014). Civilization: Beyond earth review—Analysis paralysis. The Escapist. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/editorials/reviews/12483-Sid-Meier-s-Civilization-Beyond-Earth-Review. Accessed December 1, 2014.
- Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Voiskounsky, A. E., Mitina, O. V., & Avetisova, A. A. (2004). Playing online games: Flow experience. PsychNology Journal, 2(3), 259–281.Google Scholar
- Warner, J. (2007). The legend of leeroy jenkins. Denver Westword. http://www.westword.com/2007-03-08/news/the-legend-of-leeroy-jenkins/. Accessed November 16, 2014.
- Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar