Introduction to the
Theory of Game Elements




                                     Aki Järvinen
                        ...
Contents
   • Games as systems
   • Game states and game system behaviour
   • Game elements as parts of game systems
   •...
All kinds of games allowed!
•   All games, regardless of the
    media or technology they employ,
    contain certain elem...
Same but dierent
   • How to conceptualise this ‘same but
         dierent’ qualities of games?

   • One needs to concept...
Games as systems
•   System is
    ‘a dynamic whole with interacting parts’

•   In game systems:

    1) game elements eq...
The Theory of Game Elements
   •     Conceptualises possible dierent configurations
         of game systems

   •     i.e....
Element categories: overview

           SYSTEMIC                                 BEHAVIORAL
                             ...
Game elements: overview
                                                        BEHAVIORAL ELEMENTS
    SYSTEMIC ELEMENTS
...
Game elements: overview
•   All game elements have an ownership attribute

•   There are three kinds of ownership attribut...
Components
•    Components are usually objects that the
     player is able to manipulate in the course
     of the game.
...
Types of Components
•   There are three types of
    components:

•   components-of-self: components
    possessed by ones...
Environment
•   It is not mandatory yet it is very
    common (boards, etc.)

•   The environment element sets
    specific...
Types of Environments
•    Game environments can be broadly classified
     into two following types:

    •     Boards/fiel...
Rule set
•   Rules constitute the fundamental compound
    element, rule set.

•   Rule set is the glue that keeps a game
...
Game mechanics
•    ‘The means’, i.e. always there in relation to goals, ‘the
     ends’

•    Best described with verbs; ...
Types of Game mechanics

•   generic mechanics classes

•   that can be actualized in
    various ways

•   for example, a...
Theme
•     theme equals the subject matter of a game

•     if there is no theme in a game, the system does
      not rep...
Information
•   Game systems contain information

•   The main function of information is to
    store data about game sta...
Interface
• In case players can not access
       the game system directly there is
       need for a tool to enable that
...
Players
•   There would no games nor play
    without Players

•   Players are arguably highly complex
    psychological e...
Players in focused gatherings
•     focused gatherings involve for the participants the
      following ‘communication arr...
Qualities of Players
•    For the purposes of analysis players have to abstracted down to
     a handful of crucial aspect...
Contexts
•   There are several contexts to any game

•   E.g., the context of football is a cluster of
    factors having ...
Game elements: summary
                                                        BEHAVIORAL ELEMENTS
    SYSTEMIC ELEMENTS
 ...
What ludologists do




Games without Frontiers
A Resource for Game Studies  Design
Another visualization




Games without Frontiers
A Resource for Game Studies  Design
Further resources
 • http://gamegame.blogs.com
  • Card game / brainstorming theory of
                               tool...
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Introduction to the Theory of Game Elements

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Intro to my theory of what elements games are made of. The theory and its concepts constitute the fundaments of my Ph.D. thesis and the analysis & design methods introduced in it.

Introduction to the Theory of Game Elements

  1. 1. Introduction to the Theory of Game Elements Aki Järvinen aki@gameswithoutfrontiers.net http://www.gameswithoutfrontiers.net
  2. 2. Contents • Games as systems • Game states and game system behaviour • Game elements as parts of game systems • Game element attributes • Definitions and examples element by element • Examples of an analysis method • Gamegame: theory meets design meets play Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies & Design
  3. 3. All kinds of games allowed! • All games, regardless of the media or technology they employ, contain certain elements • They are not all the same • Or implemented in the same manner or technique • Yet there are underlying similarities: goals, objects to be manipulated, environments, players, etc. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies & Design
  4. 4. Same but dierent • How to conceptualise this ‘same but dierent’ qualities of games? • One needs to conceptualise the qualities • And build a framework that brings them together, as in individual games • The notion of System Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  5. 5. Games as systems • System is ‘a dynamic whole with interacting parts’ • In game systems: 1) game elements equal the parts 2) elements have relationships, they interact 3) when players engage with the elements, it gives birth to another kind of interaction: game play • game play gives birth to dynamics; ‘the run- time behavior of the system’ (LeBlanc) Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  6. 6. The Theory of Game Elements • Conceptualises possible dierent configurations of game systems • i.e. the dierence between one game and another is due to the fact that their systems are configured dierently • configuration of football vs. the configuration of Prince of Persia • The theory is a form of Applied Ludology • Which provides solutions for practical game analysis design Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  7. 7. Element categories: overview SYSTEMIC BEHAVIORAL game play ELEMENTS ELEMENTS COMPOUND ELEMENTS • A game system in operation, i.e. a game being played, puts these elements into interaction Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  8. 8. Game elements: overview BEHAVIORAL ELEMENTS SYSTEMIC ELEMENTS • components players • • environment game play contexts • rule set • game mechanics • theme • information • COMPOUND interface • ELEMENTS Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  9. 9. Game elements: overview • All game elements have an ownership attribute • There are three kinds of ownership attributes: [game element]-of-self [game element]-of-other(s) [game element]-of-system • Ownership attributes often create inherent tension and competition to a game • Thus, many games revolve around ownerships shifting back and forth Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  10. 10. Components • Components are usually objects that the player is able to manipulate in the course of the game. • What ‘moves’ in the game, in one way or another (physical movement, transactions, etc.) • Components provide a source of identification for the player, usually in the shape of possessions, resources, and/or representatives (characters/pieces) • The goals of the game are often embodied into components (’collect 100 rings’, etc.) Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  11. 11. Types of Components • There are three types of components: • components-of-self: components possessed by oneself and controlled by oneself (e.g. your monkey) • components-of-others: components possessed and controlled by other players (e.g. the others’ monkeys) • components-of-system: components possessed and controlled by the game system (Bananas, NPCs, AI, etc.) Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  12. 12. Environment • It is not mandatory yet it is very common (boards, etc.) • The environment element sets specific spatial boundaries for components and players. • Environment embodies rules that specify the spatial and geometric arrangement of a game. • In some cases, components make up the game environment. • Typical environment attributes: state, scale, vector Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  13. 13. Types of Environments • Game environments can be broadly classified into two following types: • Boards/fields: Static individual environments; which mainly function to embody rules by visualising them into a grid with geometrical relations, for example. • Setups: Even if no particular environment is needed (as in, e.g., many card games), the other elements need to be arranged in a fashion that communicates the game state to the players. • World(s): Often these kinds of environments are divided into parts or levels, but game-worlds also exist as seamless, simulated ecosystems. Function shifts towards thematic purposes. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  14. 14. Rule set • Rules constitute the fundamental compound element, rule set. • Rule set is the glue that keeps a game system together and enables play with the other elements in the first place. • Rules make it possible for the system to function in a way that is meaningful for players. Rule set uses other elements as its embodiments. • Usually the rule set states procedures or algorithms, such as how to set up the game in order to start playing, or how players are rewarded for completing a goal. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  15. 15. Game mechanics • ‘The means’, i.e. always there in relation to goals, ‘the ends’ • Best described with verbs; game mechanics imply (inter) action • Core mechanics (Salen Zimmerman): what players do in a game, repeatedly • Running and kicking the ball are the core mechanics of football; moving a piece in Chess is its core mechanic • digital games may have multiple mechanics that correspond to the actions and the fantasy world the games simulates: Horseback riding, sword-fighting, running, jumping, etc. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  16. 16. Types of Game mechanics • generic mechanics classes • that can be actualized in various ways • for example, a Physical mechanic in the ’Contact’ class could be kissing/ hugging/etc! • and combined into sequences and relations: trading is achieved by kissing, etc! Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  17. 17. Theme • theme equals the subject matter of a game • if there is no theme in a game, the system does not represent anything other than its ruleset • theme functions metaphorically, enabling the players to understand rules and goals in terms of another subject matter • the essence of metaphor (Lako Johnson) : ‘understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another’ • Themes employ schemas: restaurant schema in Diner Dash Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  18. 18. Information • Game systems contain information • The main function of information is to store data about game states • How and to what extent the information is communicated to the players are questions of game design: • Games of perfect information vs. imperfect information • The information element makes games suitable for computers Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  19. 19. Interface • In case players can not access the game system directly there is need for a tool to enable that • i.e. an interface • prominent in digital games • is found also in mechanical games, such as Pinball, Fussball tables, etc. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  20. 20. Players • There would no games nor play without Players • Players are arguably highly complex psychological entities • Erving Goman (1961): games as focused gatherings • i.e. certain types of social arrangements that occur when persons are in one another’s immediate physical presence. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  21. 21. Players in focused gatherings • focused gatherings involve for the participants the following ‘communication arrangements’: a single visual and cognitive focus of attention a mutual and preferential openness to verbal communication a heightened mutual relevance of acts an eye-to-eye ecological huddle that maximizes each participants ’s opportunity to perceive the other participants’ monitoring of him/her Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  22. 22. Qualities of Players • For the purposes of analysis players have to abstracted down to a handful of crucial aspects: • Players have • Player possessions: ownership of elements, components in particular • Player strategies: players’ preferences in relation to goal hierarchy • Player agency: player aordances in relation to elements, embodied into game mechanics • Player knowledge: information available for players to use • Player organisation: players’ relation to each other, possibly via dierent roles • Player abilities and skills: sets of cognitive, physical and psychomotor abilities • game systems - i.e. game designers - try to set normative constraints to player qualities Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  23. 23. Contexts • There are several contexts to any game • E.g., the context of football is a cluster of factors having to do both with the game’s popularity, tradition, players, national histories, and the sports industry with its media coverage. • The context of a game can be endlessly expanded to surrounding cultures... • in order to be useful, the line has to be drawn somewhere when embarking on a concrete analysis of a particular game. • Where actually to draw the line is a question of perspective. Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  24. 24. Game elements: summary BEHAVIORAL ELEMENTS SYSTEMIC ELEMENTS • components players • • environment game play contexts • rule set • game mechanics • theme • information • COMPOUND interface • ELEMENTS Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  25. 25. What ludologists do Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  26. 26. Another visualization Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
  27. 27. Further resources • http://gamegame.blogs.com • Card game / brainstorming theory of tool for game design, based on the game elements • http://www.gameswithoutfrontiers.net • Aki’s Thesis chapters online analysis tools • aki@gameswithoutfrontiers.net Games without Frontiers A Resource for Game Studies Design
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