Frameworks have two main purposes: To help understand ourselves and to help communicate who we are to others. So let’s understand and communicate!
There are many reasons I write this blog. It helps me stay connected with my brother. It helps me connect to like minded people. It helps me express my feelings about something I love. On top of all that, it helps me better understand who I am and what I value in this world.
With that in mind, and since we started the new column, I figured I might jump on the Aesthetic boat with some deep self discovery. Let’s take an introspective look at the Aesthetics of the MDA framework. I think it will be neat to see what fits me as a gamer as well as a person. Take it as a Myers-Briggs with gaming flair.
Frameworks such as these have two main purposes: To help understand ourselves and to help communicate who we are to others (perhaps from a sales perspective there is the added purpose of market sizing, but I will ignore that for now). So let’s understand and communicate!
Aesthetics – Going Deeper
As a quick intro, the MDA framework breaks down the Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics of game design. The Aesthetics section tries to formulate vocabulary of elements that engage the player, to move beyond simply thinking of a game as “fun”. The 8 terms presented in this paper are a great starting point for further consideration, but I will add in the extra Aesthetic that Extra Credits appends into their discussion.
The Aesthetics section tries to formulate vocabulary of elements that engage the player, to move beyond simply thinking of a game as “fun”.
Let me start off by saying that every one of these Aesthetics holds a place in my heart as it relates to some gaming experience. That being said, it wouldn’t help the introspection process that much if I said “THEY ARE ALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER!”. Alright, here we go. Autobots, roll out! (Imagine if Whitney had an Optimus Prime, that would be bad news).
“Sensation – Game as a sense pleasure”
I can’t say this one is particularly high on my list. In general, I will not hunt out games that focus purely on sense pleasure. I absolutely love to be pleasantly surprised by sensory touches but it will rarely be the reason I buy or delve into a game.
I tend not to care about graphics for the sake of graphics much at all, but there are games that use graphical power to truly enhance an artistic vision, which I can appreciate (Dust touched on this a bit back). My article on music speaks to some songs that made certain gaming moments magnificent. The right song for the right moment can be perfect at making a game become far more than the culmination of dynamic interactions with the player.
Ultimately, I’m a form follows function guy I guess. I want my things to feel right, and if they don’t look right that doesn’t matter as much to me. Best case scenario, the sensory touches enhance that functionality, but I can’t call it a core Aesthetic for me.
I’m a form follows function guy I guess. I want my things to feel right, and if they don’t look right that doesn’t matter as much to me.
I see this very much in my day-to-day. For one example, I think this is one of the major components of my frugality. There is a price for flashiness in our world and it’s something I just can’t even remotely care about. I would never buy a fancy car and when it comes to clothes, if they fit, bring some level of warmth and aren’t see-through, then I’m fine with it.
Notable games: DDR, Bit Trip Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, Mega Man (for the music), Tetrisphere, Metroid Prime
“Fantasy – Game as make believe”
This is a hard one for me to decipher. I think it is I something I care much about passively, but not actively. I enjoy stepping into new and fully imagined worlds where I can take on roles that I could never imagine.
That being said, it is very rarely the memorable component of a game for me. The games I remember especially fondly often have that fantasy element but this is not what I generally recall when I reminisce on features.
For example, Star Ocean Till the End of Time creates a wonderful world where you end up controlling a crazy cast of remarkable characters doing remarkable things, but it’s the gameplay that memorialized this game for me. I remember very little about the game but mixing up my strategies in order to struggle through the battle with Freya for an epic battle.
One game that is possibly most memorialized for a beautiful balance of Fantasy and Discovery is Skies of Arcadia Legends. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a sky pirate. Am I right?
I mean, who doesn’t want to be a sky pirate. Am I right?
Although it is hard to categorize fantasy in real life because it is a concept so rooted in the media we embrace, I feel like this dichotomy of un-spotlighted relevance is true away from games as well.
My walks to work are often filled with crazy “what ifs” with elaborate super hero iterations of my life. This isn’t a mentality I embrace in any way, though. I try to be, and portray myself as being, wholly grounded in a world of sound logical direction, but this world of fantasy floats somewhere deep. I have also started keeping a dream journal lately to capture some of the fantasy loving trapped within.
Notable games: Skies of Arcadia Legends, The Mana Series, Pokemon, Blast Corps, Super Baseball 2020
“Narrative – Game as drama”
Narrative matters a lot…ish to me. A quick look at my gaming background would show that I have at least some leaning towards games with hefty narrative. I quite enjoy when a game beautifully captures character interactions.
Two series that instantly pop into my mind when I think of Narrative are Final Fantasy (X and XIII in particular) and the Suikoden Series. Both tell amazing stories and I will come back to them time and time again just to learn from those relationships.
That being said, I put an “ish” there for a reason. I’ve always been someone who skips a little through text and story, which is a kind of contradictory to being a lover of Narrative. I think this spawns a lot from just being a slow reader and never particularly taking to reading as a way of pulling in information.
I have always been a slower reader than Dust, for example, which puts me in a slightly awkward place when playing text heavy games with him. I could ask to slow down so I can get through everything, but that touches on one of the things I hate most in the entire world, which is being an inconvenience to people. So often I found myself just being fine with mentally filling in the gaps using context clues and asking Dust if I really got lost (except in the games that Dust just narrated because he is awesome and enjoyed doing so).
There are many ways to translate the concept of Narrative to our real world interactions, but to me it seems linked to empathy and sympathy. A lot of it comes down to how much we care about the stories of the ones around us and how we are willing to help these stories unfold in whatever way we can.
A lot of it comes down to how much we care about the stories of the ones around us and how we are willing to help these stories unfold in whatever way we can.
I think I am pretty good at reading emotions and to me there is no greater joy than being able to help someone else. I’m sorry if I click through what you say from time to time though, it’s just a bad habit.
Notable games: FFX, Suikoden Series, 999 and Zero Escape
“Challenge – Game as obstacle course”
Ah yes, challenge. Let me start off with the same disclaimer Extra Credits gives. It’s easy to see this and think “Difficulty” but that isn’t really what challenge entails. It’s more about that puzzle element of being presented an obstrusive force and having to isolate and enact a solution.
This is a pretty important Aesthetic to me. I mentioned this in some of my previous posts. I do not necessarily care much for creating arbitrary challenge out of the toolbox I am given to play with. I steer clear of speed runs or challenge runs.
That aside, however, I absolutely love when challenge is used to fully take advantage of the mechanics of a game and make the gamer rethink the possibilities given the presented tools. I touched on this in my article about how Shin Megami Tensei 4 forced me to rethink my strategies.
Another great example is leaving the early puzzle piece behind in Braid, thinking maybe there would be some kind of power up later that could help get it. Then you realize there is no power up and return to that spot and just rethink what is possible.
The last level in HarmoKnight was a great example of how difficulty in particular can bring a game alive. There are only two actions in the game: attack and jump. Going for the gold on the last level just made me appreciate the game so much more as it picked up the pace, introduced new monsters and set new traps. All of the elements came together to make it feel like a wonderful game for that one level.
Ultimately, this parallels a lot of what I said in my article on about completionism. I am motivated much less for an open ended task versus a more rigidly defined goal. I quite enjoy the world as an obstacle course when that obstacle course is defined and there is some end goal. When instead the obstacle course is an amalgamation of vague directional tasks with little feedback, I have trouble finding motivation.
I quite enjoy the world as an obstacle course when that obstacle course is defined and there is some end goal.
Notable games: Shin Megami Tensei 4, Braid, Mario Golf, Battle Toads (meant more for it’s genre swapping than it’s pure raw difficulty).
“Fellowship – Game as social framework”
There is an aspect of gaming fellowship that I rank quite high. “Game as a social framework” has perhaps taken on a new meaning over the past 5 years or so. With social media games and the interconnectedness of apps, many people may jump to this side of gaming when they think of fellowship.
I, on the other hand, can barely think of the last game I even played online, and I certainly do not prescribe to the social media gaming culture. That aside, fellowship means a whole lot to me.
There are few things that help me connect with a person more than playing a game with them. That could be co-op play in a grand adventure like the Tales, Shining, or Mana series, a race around Luigi Circuit, or even a single player game that I can experience with another person like Heavy Rain or Thomas Was Alone.
Beyond that, there is just the camaraderie of the community (I left a hefty comment about this on Dust’s Pokemon post). The communication to my brother, my friends, and anyone who reads this blog of how even single player games have affected me means a great deal.
I also love streetpasses on my 3DS. Even without ever meeting a person, just having that small amount of feedback that people out there want to interact and seeing what games they are playing and what hat they are wearing… it all matters to me.
Touching back on something I mentioned earlier, nothing gives me more pleasure than to be an active part in someone else’s success. I also believe wholeheartedly that if you give the world a hand it will return in kind. To me, this is fellowship. Working together to make sure that we are there to propel each other when we we need it.
I also believe wholeheartedly that if you give the world a hand it will return in kind.
Notable games: The Tales Series, Shining Soul I/II, Goof Troop, Goemon’s Great Adventure, 3DS Plaza Games
For Another Day
This is already huge, so I’m going to take this opportunity to call a timeout and keep everyone in suspense about the rest of the Aesthetics. I will post the rest of them next week. Please please please tell me what you guys think! I think this is a great open space for dialogue to take place!
Until next time, game on and learn on!