April 1, 2007

Game Elements & Layers

by Nick Montfort · , 11:12 pm

Paolo Tajè’s article over at Game Career Guide proposes six layers for gameplay: Token, including elements like the player’s “man,” opponents, and power-ups; Prop, their properties; Dyn, the verbs of game dynamics; Goal, in-game motivations; Meta, elements outide the game itself such as its division into levels; and Psycho, the desired emotional responses of the player. The article applies this “Gameplay Deconstruction: Elements and Layers” (or GD:EL) model to Pac-Man and Tetris. Thanks to ifMUD for the tip about this one.

The foundational token level seems to be based on the same ideas as Peter Bøgh Andersen’s 1990 semiotic approach, which is discussed in Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext. While Aarseth shows that there are some problems with clafssifying elements at this founational level, Tajè does a reasonable job of producing Pac-Man and Tetris diagrams in this framework. I’m not sure why the token layer gets a special layer above it for properties and the other layers don’t – surely game dynamics, goals, meta elements, and psychological responses all have properties, too. And, I’m not sure that all of these are layers the way that the OSI layers of the networking model are. Are the “psycho” responses really based directly on what is in the “meta” layer right beneath it, or are all of these aspects of game experience more interrelated?

The most important question, certainly, is: What new things does this analysis reveal about Pac-Man, Tetris, and other games? Of course, this is just a short article introducing the concept; perhaps more about this will be revealed in future GD:EL analyses.

2 Responses to “Game Elements & Layers”

  1. josh g. Says:

    I had trouble seeing what these diagrams could reveal as an analysis tool, as the layers model doesn’t seem to map directly to how these elements interact. However, it does seem like a good method of creating a concise summary of a game design’s elements on multiple levels; ie. it’s a good “design inventory”. In this use, the layers can serve as a clear visual categorization rather than being about strictly diagramming interactions.

    Also, I’ve got to say that the abbreviations were a bit of a headache to read. The diagram would have been self-explanatory if it simply had the full words on the left.

  2. breslin Says:

    If we were in the movie “Dead Poets Society,” this would be the part we’d be tearing out of the book. :)

    Perhaps the saving grace of naive structuralist aesthetics is that it can provide a plan for teaching games how to write themselves. Not exactly this article, of course, but the primitive and simplistic level of thought it manifests. Of course it’s a terrible way of describing art for other humans, but it’s a fine level of thinking if you’re trying to communicate art to a machine.

    For instance, no literary critic in possession of either cranial hemisphere would evaluate the 20th-Century novel in terms of naive Aristotelian categories. But by contrast, automatic production of Aristotelian narrative is the very cutting edge of automated drama management. — Which is great. After all, who wants the job of teaching the machine *true* postmodern sensibility?

    (Although granted some postmodern forms of linguistic art are easier to fake than their modern and classical counterparts, specifically (and not by accident) the self-generating and self-justifying ex nihil ones which don’t really have modern and classical counterparts. Which is fair enough: there is indeed an art to putting the cart before the horse. But I digress….)

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