The Five Facets of Gaming

The Five Facets of Gaming

A usual scheme for classifying games is to use genres. Using genres is a very blunt way however, and today, there is too much variation in within a genre for genre labels to be informative enough. A better way of classifying games is to use a facetted scheme. I propose the following five facets:

  1. Game-play mechanic
  2. Control scheme
  3. Theme
  4. Art style
  5. Goal of game

Game-play mechanic (GPM)

The Game-play mechanic refers to the way the main character interacts with the game world. Examples include

  • side-scrolling shooter
  • physics based artillery
  • first-person-shooter
  • hidden-object
  • point-and-click
  • move blocks

Control scheme (CS)

The control scheme facet describes how the user controls the game. Examples include

  • on-screen touch-pad
  • touch line-drawing
  • mouse+wasd
  • device tilting
  • device shaking

Theme (T)

The theme facet describes the setting of the game, i.e. where and when in time and space + who are the main characters/objects in the game. Examples include

  • Fantasy (or subset thereof)
  • Science fiction
  • Zombie apocalyse
  • Hospital environment

Art style (AS)

The art style facet describes how the style of the game artwork. Examples include

  • Retro 8-bit
  • Cartoon
  • Realistic
  • Abstract

Goal of game (GOG)

The goal of the game facet describes the goal of the game character. This is sometimes expressed as a story, and sometimes expressed as a performance metric. Examples include

  • Save the princess
  • Get the highest score
  • Get the fastest time

Concrete Use-Cases

List of facets:

  1. Game-play mechanic (GPM)
  2. Control scheme (CS)
  3. Theme (T)
  4. Art style (AS)
  5. Goal of game (GOG)

Quake (PC-version)

  • GPM: linear first-person shooter
  • CS: keyboard+mouse combo
  • T: Demon underworld
  • AS: Dark, pixel drawn
  • GOG: Kill the final boss + perform well on each level

Tiny wings (iOS)

  • GPM: Physics based sidescroller
  • CS: single touch
  • T: Bird and hilly islands
  • AS: Cute crayon
  • GOG: Get the highest score

Do we need more facets?

The idea of having a facetted system, is to capture the most important dimensions of a game description. With an increasing variation in games and development of novel aspects in gaming, there will probably come a time in the future when five facets are not enough to capture the most salient properties of games. The question is how these five facets fare in describing current games. If you have an opinion, please to chime in to the discussion.

Discussion (updated 2011-09-08 14:38:20)

From @Hellibop (twitter)

“@fnurl perhaps in addition to goal of game; goal of user? Experience – level up – socialize… I’m missing a human connection.­N” and “@fnurl how would you categorise The Sims?”

Regarding the goal of the user, I thought about that, and reasoned that users can have any goal really. E.g. I could play Tetris and try to put all pieces of a certain kind in the left corner. The goal of the user is up to the user, but most games provide a goal for the game character (which in the case of Tetris, I would agrue is an abstract, non-visible character). Other games such as The Sims are “open ended” which means that they do not have an end, so the goal type would be “open ended”. So a categorization of The Sims would look like this

  • GPM: virtual human simulation
  • CS: mouse operated menus
  • T: Current day neighborhood
  • AS: Generic Semi-realistic 3D computer graphics
  • GOG: Open ended simulation

From @MathiasNordvall (twitter)

“@fnurl Nice attempt, but read @miguelsicart ’s article on game mechanics though and your model is artifact rather than use focused.”

There are other definitions of game mechanics, and I seem to be using Richard Rouse’s (Rouse 2005) description as cited in Sicart 2008: “what the players are able to do in the game-world, how they do it, and how that leads to a compelling game experience”. Also, I seem to be using genres or “subjective framework names” as labels form my facet values – i.e. the game mechanic genre “physics based sidescroller”. The reason for using genre labels for the facet values is to reduce the space needed to describe a game. This facet based classification scheme should be seen in the context of replacing a system such as the system used in e.g. the Apple iOS App Store with far to broad game categories (such as “Action”, “Adventure”, “Arcade”, “Educational”, “Family”, “Music”, “Puzzle”, “Role Playing” and “Strategy” (Actually, I have the most trouble with “Action”, “Adventure”, “Arcade” and “Puzzle” since the games I would place in those categories are far to heterogeneous)), so I would not go so far as to call this system a formal system, just a better system than only using a single genre/category. For a consumer, knowing that the formal game mechanics for Shadow of the Colossus are “to climb, ride (the horse), stab, jump, shoot (arrows), whistle, grab, run (and variations like swim or dive)” (Sicart 2008) is in my opinion, not appropriate. A genre/framework description such as “third person action platform” would be better in my opinion from a game consumers point of view.


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