Engage, Challenge, Interact
Monday, December 13, 2010 at 11:41AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Misc Design & Theory, Skill, Tetris

Video games are complicated. Years ago I started writing about the basics of game design. I started with mechanics and moved outward from there. Until we understand all of these concepts individually, we can't understand how these ideas layer together. Many game writers tend to start with their feelings or impression of a game and arbitrarily explain why the game influenced such an experience. Having a critical language allows us to understand the limitations of a comment like "X game has bad controls." After all, "bad controls" may actually be any one or more of these issues...


At this level, we can look at a given result and understand all the many ways a game can be designed to produce the result. To further develop our language and understanding of game design, I will clarify the subtle differences between engaging, challenging, and interactive design. (see here for more on engaging game design)


Interacting with Mario's face for you enjoyment

Precise definitions are a must. So here they are...


If you think these concepts are common knowledge, the perhaps the following examples will illuminate their subtle combinations and variations.


Mostly Engaging

Challenging, Engaging, & Interactive

Mostly Challenging

Mostly Interactive


Here's another important concept to note. When considering games with adjustable difficulty, we can define the effort of adjusting the difficulty of one's experience to when the player interacts with the game to do so. After all, an experience can be more or less engaging based on the player's whims. A bad joke, a left turn in the story, or a break in the immersion can sharply drop a player's engagement with the content of a game. Likewise, there are countless of ways that our engagement can be piqued. But difficulty is related to challenge and interactivity. Both are quantified by the game system, which makes the effort of adjusting difficulty measurable.  

The following is a list of games/levels that engage the senses much in the same way a movie does (ie. a lack of interactivity). The challenge/interactivity increases as the list grows. A key difference is, you can makes these experiences much more challenging/interactive for yourself if you so choose. 


Just considering these examples, we know that the qualities of engagement, challenge, and interactivity can be stressed to different degrees in a video game. With so many ways to shape player experiences, I'm glad developers exercise their options. Recent complaints about the lack of challenge and engaging content in Kirby's Epic Yarn has inspired me to write this article. Surely, a game with something for everyone is ideal from a marketing perspective. But, from an artistic/creators view, perhaps Kirby's Epic Yarn is exactly the game they wanted to make for a very specific kind of gamer. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.