Monday, January 23, 2012

Defining the "Wow" of Skyrim

The other day we read the MDA Framework for Game Design. MDA describes games as the combination of three things: mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics. The mechanics are the rules of the game, the dynamic is the system that the rules construct, and the aesthetics represent the emotional response that the player feels.

As I was reading the framework, one section in particular caught my eye. It read:
Fundamental to this framework is the idea that games are more like artifacts than media. By this  we mean that the content of a game is its  behavior - not the media that streams out of it towards the player. 
I was immediately taken aback by this section and after contemplating my own feelings I went to talk with Paul and Josh about what this meant. One game that I thought broke this rule, was Bethesda's Skyrim. To me, that game is completely defined by it's media. When I move around the world, it is it's beauty that moves me forward. One of the experiences that I described to them was of emerging from a cave to see a beautiful blue sky with sun streaming down over the mountains. It was enough for me to take a screenshot before moving forward.

But now we were faced with the following question: was it the views or the exploration itself that made this "wow" moment possible? How is Skyrim really defined for me? Paul's argument was that it was the mechanic of exploration facilitated my awe, not the media. I disagreed and thought that it was purely the media on the screen that left me feeling amazed.

Upon further consideration, I think that we were both right in a way. I believe that in Skyrim, there exists a circular model that facilitated me being blown away.

I found that I explore to find the best view, and upon finding a great view, I then work to explore other places to find new scenes. To me, this validated both our (Paul and I) views on what caused me to feel the "wow" moment. In my case, the media plays just as much of a role in defining the content of Skyrim as does the mechanics. 

In writing this, I cannot help but be reminded of Brad King's lunch discussion with us about how it it a very bad idea to design the mechanics of a game separately than the narrative of the game. In the same way, I believe that as we move forward, we should consider the impact that our media will have on the player as we try to give them their own "wow" experience.

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