MDA and 8 kinds of FUN

The video we watched this week was really interesting. It talked about the principles of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics in a game and how they relate to our current definitions of game genres.

I’d like to discuss how these principles apply to one of my favorite games: Stardew Valley.

Yes, there is a pan on my head.

Some of the key mechanics include:

  • Crops take different amounts of time to grow and can only grow during certain seasons.
  • Crafting items requires quantities of ingredient items.
  • Items have different selling prices that can be affected things like quality or skill bonuses.
  • Gold is needed to buy seeds and upgrades.
  • Most actions use up energy and health points keep you alive.
  • Randomness (RNG) determines the chance of many items being found.

The list could go on and on, since there’s so much depth to the game, but I think this is enough to get an idea of how these work together to create dynamics that make for such fun and addicting gameplay to me.

All of these mechanics work together to create a loop where there’s always something to do and to see if you can make some process better. In Stardew Valley, you plant crops to make some money. You need the money so you can buy more seeds for more crops and upgrade your tools or your farm. But these get more expensive as you discover and unlock new features. So how do you make more money? You plant more crops and/or craft things that create new sources of income or refine low-selling ingredients to higher-selling. But to craft stuff you need rocks and metal, so you go mining. But mining can be dangerous, because there’s monsters. Oh, so you’ll need a better weapon and some items to keep your health up! You’ll need some more gold and resources to support crafting those items that make mining easier so that you can get the ingredients to craft the stuff that makes farming easier, and … uh … what? This game is great.

There’s so many different patterns and rules that all tie together to make it so that it never really gets old. In the first playthrough, these mechanics work so well together as you’re trying to figure out how to make a better farm, and the main type of fun is discovery. As the seasons change, you find new crops, new areas of the world, new items to craft, and so on. For a while, you’re always learning about new and better ways to build your farm, and this is the part I absolutely love about Stardew Valley. And even if you’ve figured out these patterns and min-maxed your farm where you’re making more money than you know what to do with it all, there’s so much fun in sense pleasure (the art is really good!) and expression as you design your dream farm with the various decorative (and functional) items. But at the end of the day, I think the fun of fantasy is deeply rooted in this game; the “plot” of the game even points to this kind of fun. Instead of constantly working away at our 9-to-5’s, what if we could move away and inherit our grandpa’s farm and create something for ourselves?

For me, the fun is always evolving between these different types as I play more and more, and the mechanics do a great way of supporting them all.

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