Game Analysis and ‘Theory’ Questions:
Points of Departure for Critical Game/Virtual World Analysis or Game Design
See Also: Game Design Document/Models:
What follows is NOT a checklist for any required assigned project: It is only a possible tool to use, modify or discard.
The Aim of the Game: What’s the central concept of the game? Purposes & Goals?
Rules & Mechanics: What are the rules of the game? What are the core mechanics of game play? How do the rules and mechanics and related feed-back systems encourage (more) exploration, and support/scaffold the learning of game procedures or properties of game-play, and how the system/s ‘works’?
Narrative(s): How central is (if at all) narrative and character development to the central concept of the game? Is there a story-line(s) that drives the game, or your (avatar’s) involvement in it? Cultural fantasies about taking narrative roles? Uses of cut-scenes to develop narrative? Connections to other literary or cinematic genres and techniques?
Simulation & Imitation: Does the game simulate a practice (war-games, flight, music-play, city management) or support imitation (playing an instrument, doing a dance, swinging a golf-club, piloting a jet, performing surgery)? How does the game support learning (acquisition of knowledge and know how) through simulation challenges? What kinds of controllers or feedback interfaces are used as affordances of engaging/doing simulation challenges, supporting embodied or mimetic learning within the game? To what extent do simulation and narrative work together in the game?
Aesthetics (Non-Diegetic) Elements: Texture, sensation, presence, aesthetic uses of space, images, sound/music, voice-overs, etc., in constructing environments or sensorium? Drawing upon art/history, popular culture, or visual culture precedents – and previous games? How central to game play or game experience are aesthetics?
Sandbox: Latitude for open-ended creative action? Breathing room for unscripted inter-action (communicative literacies), exploration (roaming) (‘coloring outside of the lines’)? Opportunities to test game boundaries and rules, or re/write the rules of the game (recoding) (hacks)?
Perspective / Identify & Identification: POV/Perspective(s); Avatars/Surrogates; Role-Taking & Identity: Who or What are you within the game? What kinds of viewpoints or perspectives: 1st/3rd Person, top-down/bird’s eye, ‘rail-shooter’, ‘platform’, ‘3D,’ etc? What kinds of role-play opportunities, ways of inhabiting an identity and performing a related practice/talent? Empathetic positioning? Connections between Simulation (above) and performative Role-Taking (further links to learning?)
Multimodality: Varieties, mixtures, and degrees of dependence upon, multiple sensory-sensational modalities: i.e., written discourse, oral communication, images/visual sequences, spatial graphics/maps, sounds/music, haptic-kinesthetic gesture (thumb-mashing, button pushing, mouse-clicking, screen sweeping, Wii gestures, balance boarding, speaking/texting with other players, etc.)?
Attention & Affect: How does the game invite and enlist attention and/or sustain ongoing involvement, investment? How do game experiences and challenges elicit (and sustain) attention, affective buzz, pleasure, desire, ‘good’ frustration, provide satisfaction, sense of accomplishment or mastery/self-efficacy…etc? (See Game Mechanics,, de Castell and Jenson, J.P. Gee).
Learning Principles & the ‘Situated Learning Matrix’: James Gee has – within the context of sociocultural learning theory – identified several ‘good’ principles of learning that he sees in ‘good’ video games (see Calendar and article: Gee_Learning_and_Games_2008). Connections?
‘Know-How’ & ‘Know That’: Are there embodied practices (practical knowledge), literacy competences, and/or propositional knowledge embedded in the game? What kind of practices or literacies (strategizing, problem-solving, reading [new vocabularies and discourses], writing, speaking, playing a music instrument, re/designing, imagining, modding, hacking, collaborating, communicating, managing resources, etc) are part of the game – and how central and how deep? What learning ‘outcomes’ are enacted through game play?
Transferability? Is the know-how or knowledge (or learning) transferable to other practices, settings, challenges (outside of formal game boundaries)? What practices or cultural conventions does the game ‘mirror’, draw upon, or transform? Is the controller/interface support mimetic – or arbitrary – relations to the action or practice?
Learning Curves? Intuitive? Modes of Feedback-Interactivity? How is proficiency procedurally supported? Too easy? Too hard? (Flow Channel?) Do you learn from others? Meta-tools to modify complexity, modify the learning curve gradient (skip ahead, go-back, try again, experiment, fail better)? Do you need or want extra-game or intra-game instructions/tutorials/models or community-based support?
Community, Networks & ‘Paratexts’ Are there intra-game/extra-game community forms or mediated social (literacy) interactions? How central to game play, game interest or learning experience? Are there related affinity groups (Gee, 2003), or related communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) that support learning a practice, co-making/sharing, or role/identity-taking? (See Apperly & Beavis article). Forms of player-generated “content” – fan-fiction, game wikis, tutorials, discussion boards, reviews, video, machinima, etc…?)
Critical Media Issues & Critical Game Design
Games for Change: Does the game overtly or tacitly engage ‘social issues’ or political conflicts/debates or activist aims? How does the game instruct, model, enact arguments, demonstrate, ‘raise consciousness’, include (or exclude), or mobilize further questions, arguments, actions? See procedural rhetoric.
‘Reading’ the Game: What can be interpreted – or theorized – about the game as a cultural artefact, a pedagogical-ideological system, or commercial-cultural system that frames a kind of world? How do game mechanics work within that context/world to communicate, procedurally (See Bogost reading)… And what ‘values in play’ are discernible at the level of design, avatar affordances? (see Flanagan, et al; Nakamura, et al.)?
Representations & Enactments: What/how/who does the game ‘represent’ (or misrepresent or exclude)? What possible actions/reactions to environments, situations, identities, narratives or controversies does the game script or forbid? What forms of living – what kinds of worlds and what types of values – are structured (or subverted) by the game? What kinds of hidden or null curriculum/s are discernible through critique (see Nolan and McBride)?
What/who are we embodying? What world(s) or virtual realities are being framed, represented, procedurally scripted (or subverted)? What types of (virtual) identities – or discourse tools for identity (de)construction – are in play?
Any issues relating to the ethics/politics or ‘ideology’ of game design? (See also: Persuasive Games/Procedural Rhetoric).
Power-Plays: How does the game represent or interface (intersectionally) with questions of identity, gender, race, economics and class, modes of consumption, modes of ‘social power’ (ways of being, naming, knowing, ‘disciplining’ and so forth…). How do game mechanics (or surrounding game cultures, paratexts) co-articulate “messages”, values, who is included/excluded in play?
Modes of Address: Who are you ‘called’ to be or positioned to do?