top of page

That's Gamification: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics!

Moe Ash joins me for the second part of our two-part series on gamification. In this episode we dive a little deeper in MDA, which stands for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics. MDA is a formal way of thinking about game design, development, and criticism, and offers more depth and breadth to the gamification conversation, expanding it beyond the mechanics of points, badges, and leaderboards (PBL). Check out Moe's ebook on gamification in a nutshell here.

Connect with Moe on LinkedIn.

You can also catch him at Gamicon21V this year, where he will be presenting his gamified learning experience "The Oracle".


The following transcript was auto-generated and may contain typos or spelling errors.

Leslie Early 0:02

Okay, I am back again with Moe Ash learning architect and gamification enthusiasts. And we are here to talk a little bit more about gamification. Thank you so much for joining me again, Mo.

Moe Ash 0:15

My pleasure.

Leslie Early 0:18

I'm so I am excited to get into a little bit more into detail about how to go about thinking about gamification and sort of how gamification comes out of even though it's not the same thing, but it comes out of game design. And and you can borrow a lot of things from game design, when you're thinking about gamification, and you shared with me something that I hadn't seen before, but it's sort of a framework for Game Design called MDA. Do you want to give a little intro into that? And what that means for gamification?

Moe Ash 1:00

Sure thing, um, well, To start off, most people, when they think about gamification, they always think about PBL, which is points, badges and leaderboards. So it kind of a kind of a downplay on gamification, because if it was that heart, then anyone would have put PBL basically, like a series of points, a leaderboard at the end, a couple of badges when you reach every level, but that's a huge huge download, downplay on on gamification, and from reading into actionable behavior, and by your chi Chao, and also there's another book called Game on. Many of them referred back to the MDA. So DMT is a formal approach to understanding games, which attempts to bridge a gap between game design, game development, game criticism, and even technical game research. It it's, it's in the simplest form, it's three words, mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics. So l is just one type of mechanics being set. And mechanics are set of rules that dictate the outcome of the interactions happening within the game, elements that the action forwards it, it lets lets a gameplay happen. It becomes a game because of the mechanics. And I call with steam engines.

Leslie Early 2:48

So So PBL, then points bit points, badges and leaderboards are really, they're only types of mechanics, they don't really address dynamics or aesthetics much at all, as far as they do.

Moe Ash 3:03

I mean, if you're putting up points, badges and leaderboards, that's that's mechanics, the good mechanics, but what type of behavior are they fostering? See, this is when they come into come into perspective. So dynamics are the constraints, the emotion, the narrative, the progression, the relationships, the directional behavior response of what the mechanics are. So we implement as designers a specific mechanic within the system. Let me tell you, our mechanics, like loss of urgent mechanic, and this is a mechanic that is extremely sensitive, because if it's too much of it, you will get people to resent the game. And there's also their social pressure mechanic, and their social status mechanic, there's investment mechanic, there's fixed reward mechanics, random reward mechanics, so much that is being put to shape a game to make something meaningful, why it's not meaningful, because the mechanic itself is meaningful, because of the behaviors that come out of it are the learning are the thing are the emotions are the interactions, and all of this, all of this is wrapped nicely with aesthetics. The judge the the overall experience and the feelings of interacting within the game. That's, that's the aesthetics. So as game designers, we are at dispay, the mechanics Bay. We think, okay, I want to reach a learning objective. What kind of mechanics would I implement, and it would give me through the players that set of behaviors. And when they work together, they will get to the learning objective. Now, I believe you understand what I mean by PBL. Only, is, again, I'm going to use the same term, it's a huge downplay on what mechanics are really about, you know, it's, you should think, as we're setting strategies. True, we all put points on the leaderboard, but it has to have a meaning behind it has to have something meaningful that we want the people to get into, to play the game. How many times have you played a game that gets your points, but when it becomes mundane? Well, you're not going to be continuing on with it. Whatever, you get to give me 1000 points, 200 points even. I'm sorry, for I'm going to be ranting about this. Even placing the numbers I'm going to be putting for this 100 points. No, no, no. 50 1000. And we play scenarios and the possibilities of if people achieve that number, or when below that number, what would be the psychological reflection of it on them? Would they feel achieved? Or would they feel Oh, that's not enough? That doesn't show much achievement in it?

Leslie Early 5:17

It's it's hard to there's so much psychology now, when you get into that, like, because points are completely arbitrary, unless they mean something right to people. So yeah, what what feels like it has value? And who knows? I mean, I can answer that question at all. But I wouldn't know how. But yeah, I like that. I like that. You know, PBL is just one part of this overall experience, and doesn't really take into consideration the dynamics that you are trying to achieve amongst players or even within a single player, if it's a single player, but you're still trying to create a dynamic experience for them, that makes it meaningful for them so that they can have that behavior change or gain that knowledge. So that's, that's very interesting. It adds a whole nother dimension to the two ways of thinking about this.

Moe Ash 7:17

Honestly, when you're talking about it right now, it kind of reminded me that one time when we were brainstorming for design, we were thinking, is this a collaborative competitive game or competitive collaborative game? Because this has a specific behavior coming out of it? And this is a totally different behavior. See, even just change? The sequence? Is it collaborative, competitive or competitive collaborative, makes loads of friends psychologically on the gameplay. Mm hmm.

Leslie Early 7:45

If so that's like a crash course in in MDA. And there's so much to learn about this, that people do have a recommendation where people can start if they want to do a little research on on what that means.

Moe Ash 7:57

The research is done by Mark LeBlanc, and two other scholars, so people can simply google it, they will find a PDF, and they would have a full, a detailed paper of everything related to MVA, it's easy, it's accessible. And they will even find them in the in the aesthetics. There's a division on what type of fun and aesthetic is a drama? Is it adventure? Is it imagination, even the type of experience itself there's a full on scale of what to do and what not to do and how to approach it and what and what not to approach with certain players and what type of game would work and what others won't. It's, it's it's a big research.

Leslie Early 8:48

I'm glad you brought that up. Because aesthetics is the part of it that actually I like, as a learning designer, I sort of sometimes think about aesthetics, I like aesthetic, I like making things look pretty, but this isn't what that means is that it doesn't necessarily mean like it has to look well designed it It sounds like the way you're talking about it's more like we're talking about different genres and different affordances of what type of game of game experiences are going to develop.

Moe Ash 9:23

Let me tell you something. So I'm I'm currently working on a game called the Oracle. And the Oracle IS THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE God Hermes. And I am doing the voiceover of the story and how it builds and what Hermes is getting stripped out of his powers, and he's leaving himself to the fates. And that they would be, they would be deciding what he would do and how he would embark on the journey. So this the story itself is part of the aesthetics because aesthetics is putting something very visually appealing, but visually appealing to enrich the learning without being cognitively cognitive burden or a cognitive load on the learner. So I can't really rant a lot about the story, because the story that I'm telling you is the seventh iteration, or maybe the 10th iteration after we were like, no, we're not going to strip him powers, we're going to give his power to someone else. No, we're going to put this as an overarching story, but but leave the story somewhere else. No, no, no, no, we're gonna change the protagonist, oh, we're gonna put a different antagonist and it goes on. We're trying as much as possible to dissect it. So the learner through the aesthetics can reach the learning objective plus, engage with the gameplay and the narrative. That's That's how aesthetics are being approached.

Leslie Early 10:56

And that's a great segue, because another thing that you are a big proponent of is that there always should be a story element involved. Or Not always, but you know, depending on what genre of gamified experience you're trying to make. Not all games have stories, but most of them have some sort of story element to them. So I guess, where am I going with this? Question? I'm not 100% Sure. You know, how, what are your tips for you know, someone who's not used to storytelling or someone who's not used to coming up with, you know, plot points or things like that? What's advice to people who are still interested in gamification?

Moe Ash 11:44

Okay, so the last episode, we talked about that program for the African Union. And if you even knew how this game started, you wouldn't believe it. So, we we did the DNA. I've met the client here in Egypt. And they came all the way from South Africa. And I got my team. For people, we open. The first thing we did first thing, I open Netflix, and we started watching anime. I'm not kidding, we started watching anime. And there was this anime, it was called kinguin assura, which is basically a battle. So the whole thing, this game started off that we're going to be making them battle with one another. And then we're like, No, I don't think we'll be very, wouldn't be very PC. So let's think about something from the same concept of competition, because we want the competition aesthetic and the competition mechanic. And then we started looking at, well, cars, races. Oh, and then we started to research and we research on the most famous race games out there. And we found that there's a very famous race called limo. limo is a race that happens for 72 hours straight. They only change the the, the driver, and the car keeps just keeps on going. And the game. And the game started to make sense. Okay, we will take them on to a journey as they go with a protagonist from the beginning of a certain area, and Lamar all the way to the end. And as they go, they're facing different stops, and they're through each and every stop. There's a specific game that they need to play, and they get a specific meaning. And as they go forward, every accumulation of knowledge they take, they add up to it all the way to the end, where we're which ends with a huge game at the end of the board. So my advice is, don't limit your belief to something. It started with kinguin assura, a fighting game of fighting, fighting cartoonists if I think anime, and it ended up with something very refined as lwml.

Leslie Early 14:11

Right? just said, just saying that you sound refined. Exactly.

Moe Ash 14:18

So my point is, don't limit yourself to a specific way of thinking that's number one. Number two, just research everything. Stories, comics, animate a game play a game just for the sake of understanding how it works. And the easiest way and like the shortcuts the best shortcut this to a story. And to I know that I kind of complicated so many things by what I'm saying. So let me break it down. We're playing. I'm sorry, we're reading a story about dragons. And we talked about it before, about dragons and dragons have abilities. They breathe fire, they fly. They, they're myth, they're there. They're a myth. So the whole scenery will be mythology, you can put so much the protagonist, in that sense is the dragon. So that Dragon has many abilities, and pump this, start to build your game, start to build your story. And then look at your learning system. Turn your players into the dragons, and give them abilities from the dragon in the story and see how that plays out. You be on your own just making up a game from the story that you're telling. Mm hmm.

Leslie Early 15:51

Yeah, yeah, I love that. And and I think it does take, it takes some experimentation and practice and no one's going to be great at this overnight. But, but I think it's just such an interesting field, or like little niche inside of instructional or learning design, because there's just so much more to learn and do and you can be a lot more creative. So I just I and I would love to see if any listeners have examples of games or anything that they're working on. I'd love to see examples. And and I also know you made you recently put together a little ebook of sort of some of the stuff we've talked about. And I hope to share that with listeners as well. Because that even though you you have told me Oh, I just threw this together this morning. It's no big deal. But it's pretty great. So it's pretty great. And I think it will be very useful for people to look through that. So I feel you'll give me the link and I can share it. But yeah, so and then I did want to check in with you. Sorry. Go ahead. Sorry. Go.

Moe Ash 17:05

Well, okay, away from the E book. Let me tell the listeners about something, I want you to go and check out since we're all instructional designers go check out growth engineering, growth engineering, and check their storytelling mechanisms. They have seven different storytelling mechanisms. They have rags to riches, overcoming the monster. The Quest tragedy, there's so much to learn about storytelling, and they have it all, like jolted down for you to go and learn about and by the way, Goths engineering are insane when it comes to gamification.

Leslie Early 17:44

That's one of them before. Okay, let's graph G r o t h engineer.

Moe Ash 17:50

Yeah. Yeah, it's a British. It's a British platform. They even do like magazines and games for corporates. And it's it's amazing. I tried to remember her name. Like the spokesman, spokeswoman of the brand, her name is Juliet, but I can't remember her last name. But she's amazing. I mean, I love listening to her videos about about gamification and behavioral change. And she offers so much that's one thing. The other thing is people will be like, Okay, I have the imagination, but I don't know how to build it. And that's when me and you we talked about it, like, use the simplest thing. Not all instructional designers know how to play around with illustrator, or after effects or so just use your PowerPoint. Go to PowerPoint. And in the insert section, you would find add ins and download pixton characters, vixen characters. To make it clear, it's kind of like Vyond.

Leslie Early 19:00

Or storyline characters.

Moe Ash 19:02

Or storyline characters, but easier. And you can change colors, gestures of poses, and you can even make your own character on it like, like how we do on like snapshots bitmoji, which is also a plugin that you can put on your Google Chrome. And you can create your own avatar. And from that you can even make a story featuring you, which is something that you can do as well. And last thing, I don't take in a lot of airtime. I'm your first game would always suck.

Leslie Early 19:40

Good advice.

Moe Ash 19:44

And that my first game, the first game that I fully worked on, it took me 11 months 11 months of research, prototyping, testing, testing, testing, until we created a board game On Situational Leadership, so it's not easy, but it's fun. It's fun because you're building a puzzle that the people put together, not you. You're just putting the pieces. And when they put together, it makes up something.

Leslie Early 20:17

Yeah, that's really cool. And I think that's great advice. The first one, we just have to accept.

Moe Ash 20:23

All the way. Yes.

Leslie Early 20:25

I did want to ask, I just wanted to check in with you. I know you, you have some interesting things coming up for you in the world of game design gamification, soon, right?

Moe Ash 20:38

Yes, well, I was just speaking about Yo-Kai Chao, who is a guy that I learned a lot from, and he's gonna be coming up on the Gamicon, which is the conference for gamification of learning. And this time, it's pretty much different because it's a 48 hour conference where you will be listening to people talking about gamification from around the world for 48 hours straight, to be recorded will be recorded. There are some seriously amazing people going there. And by the way, the game the Oracle that we did, we did a specifically for gamma con, so our debut there. And there's also a very lovely person. I just had my podcasts with him. Tonight. His name is masa Memon, from guitar learning. Cool. Yeah, he did his game, which is called revive on multiplayer in this learning, and that's just like a pebble of how many good people and so much to learn about gamification, I would really recommend anyone that is interested to learn go there, maybe you wouldn't get everything, because some people are, like, seriously sophisticated in it. But you would network with like Mike and like minded people, and you will learn so much about the science and the art of gamification.

Leslie Early 22:03

Yeah, I love that. Great. Okay. Well, I think that's it for us today. But that was really awesome. Thank you for all your passion and enthusiasm and insights, and sharing examples of work that you've actually done yourself. I love hearing and sharing examples. So thank you so much again, Moe for joining me.

Moe Ash 22:25

Thank you for having me. And it's, it's a privilege because we did two episodes. And it's a privilege that I'm having this opportunity with you. Thank you for that.

Leslie Early 22:35

Oh, no, the pleasure and privilege is all mine. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by

bottom of page