Thematic elements – stories, settings, characters – give games topics. They answer the question, “What is this game about?”, which is different from the question, “What is this gameplay about?”Not every game has a theme, and not every game needs a theme. However, a well-chosen theme can have a big impact on a game.Thematic elements have three primary purposes:Help players become more engaged. Players personalize the game experience if they identify with the character. Similarly, an interesting setting can add emotional weight. A game set in a fantasy realm will cause a different response from one set in World War II, even with the same game mechanics.Make the game easier to learn. Players in a racing game, for example, expect mechanics for accelerating, braking and steering because that’s how real vehicles work.Tell a compelling story. Games can be used to convey interesting stories, just like other media.Themes can also create expectations. Such expectations can create unwritten rules for how a player or designer thinks a game “should” be played.
There are three categories of rules, all important to a successful play experience:Setup involves things you do once at the beginning of a gameProgression entails what happens during a gameResolution indicates the conditions that cause the game to end and how an outcome is determined based on the game state.Mechanics are a collection of rules that form a discrete chunk of gameplay.Systems are collections of mechanics that make up the biggest chunks of the game.
Resources are all the things directly under a players control that can be used as a game advances.
Games can be difficult, but not so punishing that they turn the player away.Rules should be consistent. Examples of inconsistency are monsters that are killable in some situations but not in others. In general, the more difficult a game is, the less it can change its rules on the fly.For something to be enjoyably difficult rather than punishing, it has to give the player an outlet to resolve problems in new ways. When the player fails at overcoming an option, he needs alternate choices so that he has an opportunity to succeed.The player needs the ability to make informed choices about the game, even if they are split second ones.. Everything needs to hint at its consequences in some small way.
Strategic (mental) and reflex (physical) gameplay are different expressions of player skill. In both cases, the player has control over the outcome through his decisions and actions.By contrast, chance-based mechanics have a randomized outcome. Chance adds uncertainty to a game, which can create tension and make it more exciting. Too much randomness can be frustrating. Players want to make meaningful decisions, but decisions lose meaning if the outcomes are decided solely by dice rolls or card shuffles.Chance-based mechanics also come in different flavors with different mathematical characteristics. Determining the right type and amount of chance-based mechanics is a big part of being a game designer.
What are the players trying to do? Game objectives determine who won or whether the player has beaten the game or a portion of the game. They can also vary in scale. Complete the level or mission is an objective, but the bigger objective might be complete a series of levels or complete the storyline. Here are some common game objectives.Score: Get more points than your opponent; or, be the first player to reach a certain number of points. There might be one source of points, or different actions might have different point values.Capture/Destroy: Eliminate all of your opponent’s resources from the game. Chess is a well-known example where you must eliminate opposing forces to win.Collection: Many jumping and exploration games like LittleBigPlanet and other platformers require the player to collect a certain number of objects scattered throughout the levels.Solve: The game Clue is an example of a game where the objective is to solve a puzzle.Chase/Race/Escape: Generally anything were you are moving toward or away from something.Beat the Clock: Trying to reach an objective before time runs out.Spatial Alignment: A number of games, like Tetris, involve the positioning of elements as an objective.Build: The opposite of “destroy”, players use resources to build structures or assets. In the game Civilization, players have must build things at many different levels: combat units, structures, technologies, cities. RPGs include the objective of character advancement where the player characters gradually gain power and capability.Avoiding a Loss: Some games end when one player performs an at that is forbidden by the rules, like Simon Says.Advance the Story: Sometimes the objective of a game is just to continue storyline and see what happens next to the characters.Explore: Game worlds like the Legend of Zelda series encourage players to travel around the world and discover new characters and places.
LMU Elements of a Game Discussion
Loyola Marymount University Presentation
Game Production Instructor, Los Angeles Film School
March 11, 2014
Elements of a Game
Helps players become engaged
Makes game easier to learn
Tells a compelling story
The greater the
harder it is to
learn how to
play the game.
The number of rules or the number of elements
with which the player interacts.
The greater the
depth, the harder
it is master the
The ability to find enjoyment in a game as one’s
Tic-Tac-Toe has few decisions, but it also
has few rules
Chess has more rules and elements, but it
has many interesting decisions
Monopoly has even more rules and
elements, but relatively few meaningful
Depth is directly related to the number of
interesting decisions the player can make.
Game repeats until
increasing number of
Game keeps getting
harder until you die
of possible paths
Big gains for you can
be big gains for your
Push mole down, mole
Cut off one head, two
Protect a target
Buy Low, Sell High
Anything the player must gather or
protect to help in achieving the game’s
Anything that makes achieving the game’s
Hidden Resources or Obstacles
How easy or hard it is for a player to
complete a game objective.
Games should be easy to learn, but hard to
Difficult vs. Punishing
Rules should be consistent
Players need to be given enough
information to make decisions
The player’s choices should be meaningful
Players should be able to obtain enough
resources to meet goals
Achievement milestones that advance
progress in a game.
Elementary (Minor) Goals
Intermediate (Level) Goals
Primary (Win/Loss) Goals
Types of Goals
Examples of Goals
Beat the Clock
Advance the Story
What Makes Goals Engaging
Worthy of Obtaining
Challenging to Reach
New Goals Replace
The set of rules that a game follows during
each game turn.
All game’s have turns, even if they appear to
be continuously be running. This is because
most modern video games don’t stop and
wait for player input.
All games start out as
ideas. Some games come
from one powerful idea, but
most are formed by
combining many ideas to
create a unique whole. It’s
very possible that initial
ideas will be (or should be)
abandoned, and lots of
new ideas will be
considered during the
A group creativity technique
to find a conclusion to a
specific problem by
gathering a list of ideas
by its members. In games,
brainstorming is used to
generate a large number of
ideas about game's concept,
Osborn’s method of
brainstorming has four
Focus on quantity
Welcome unusual ideas
Combine and improve
ideasAlex F. Osborn
Break into groups.
Receive 3 game mechanics from your speaker.
Brainstorm a learning game using at least one of
Present your game concept, including:
Theme (or Learning Topic)
Goals (Both Game Goals and Learning Goals)
Four ways to learn with Minecraft:
Build writing skills by having writing a Minecraft blog
Encourage reading by crating a structure or scene from
Teach Math Literacy by building structures to
demonstrate understanding of mathematical principals
such as ratios, integers, quadrants, area and volume.
Practice Digital Citizenship and Online Social Skills
The official version of the game specifically tailored
for teachers and students. It features simplified
technical issues such as setting up servers,
managing account privileges, configuration scripts,
and defining the limits of player space and options.
MinecraftEDU creator Joel Levin says sessions are
most productive--and fun--when “teachers to talk to
the kids about the meaning, purpose, rules, and how
the world for the given project should operate.”
The Minecraft Wiki: the definitive guide to
all things Minecraft
Massively Minecraft: an online learning
community for kids age 4-16 and their
Six missions, all related to the theme of managing energy and
environmental issues in an urban setting. Each mission consists
of two types of activities:
In-game: Modify a pre-built city to meet an objective;
Concept maps: Complete a cause-and-effect flowchart that
shows how variables affect outcomes. (This is all done in a
web browser; there is no gameplay.)
The developers say it covers 5 Common Core literacy standards
for grades 6-8 around identifying and citing textual evidence to
support analysis and conclusions, along with Next Generation
Science Standards around “Human Impacts on Earth Systems”
and “Systems Thinking.”