LeBlanc, Hunicke and Zabek defined a game in terms of its Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics, also known as the MDA Framework.
- Mechanics are basically the “rules” of the game. These are the constraints under which the game operates. How is the game set up? What actions can players take, and what effects do those actions have on the game state? When does the game end, and how is a resolution determined? These are defined by the mechanics.
- Dynamics describe the play of the game when the rules are set in motion. What strategies emerge from the rules? How do players interact with one another?
- Aesthetics does not refer to the visual elements of the game, but rather the player experience of the game: the effect that the dynamics have on the players themselves. Is the game “fun”? Is play frustrating, or boring, or interesting? Is the play emotionally or intellectually engaging?
Before the MDA Framework was written, the terms “mechanics” and “dynamics” were already in common use among designers. The term “aesthetics” in this sense had not, but has gained more use in recent years.
The game designer only creates the Mechanics directly. The Dynamics emerge from the Mechanics, and the Aesthetics arise out of the Dynamics. The game designer may want to design the play experience, or at least that may be the ultimate goal the designer has in mind, but as designers, we are stuck building the rules of the game and hoping that the desired experience emerges from our rules.
They may be aware of the Mechanics and Dynamics, but the thing that really makes an immediate impression and that is most easily understood is the Aesthetics. This is why, even with absolutely no knowledge or training in game design, anyone can play a game and tell you whether or not they are having a good time. They may not be able to articulate why they are having a good time or what makes the game “good” or “bad” but anyone can tell you right away how a game makes them feel.