Video game mechanics: what are they and what types are there?

Video games have rules that determine interactions. We review the key concepts in that world and the most common mistakes when devising such structures.


What are the mechanics of a video game?

Game mechanics determine what the user can (and cannot) do in the video game . They are the pre-established rules that govern the different gamer installments, from the super simple to the most complex.

In other words, the concept “game mechanics” refers to the actions in the games and the rules that must be followed.

Each movement of the user (for example, a jump in Super Mario Bros. or an attack in Call of Duty ) is governed by the mechanics of each title.

Please note the following.

The mechanics of a video game have a direct relationship such as the so-called “game state” or “state of the video game”, which describes the characteristics and position of all the elements in the virtual environment.

To return to the previous examples, when Nintendo’s mustachioed Mario steps on a mushroom or breaks a block of bricks, the player interacts under the rules of the mechanics, and with these actions alters the state of the game.

In short, game mechanics is a system of rules that the player must invariably abide by and that, in this way, defines the interaction between the user and the videogame.

Structural elements of interaction in games

The structural elements of interaction in video games are interrelated to make up each game’s proposal.

In turn, they are closely linked to the mentioned mechanics to “teach” players how to proceed.

What are these structural elements of interaction? Look.

  • Game objective.
  • Procedures for executing actions.
  • Rules for actions.
  • Number of players and their roles.
  • Results and rewards in the game.
  • Skills.
  • Interaction patterns
  • Equipment requirements.

Examples of mechanics in video games

Since game mechanics are rules, we can point out a series of examples. To do this, we chose some popular and recognizable variants.

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In Fortnite: Battle Royale, the mechanic establishes that the player who is the last to die in a group of 100 participants will win. Naturally, there are more mechanics there: from the possibility of collecting items that add vitality, to the abilities of the various weapons.

In sports releases, for example in the FIFA or NFL franchises, the mechanics are usually adjusted to the rules of those disciplines, replicating them in digital environments.

In a play-to-earn game like Axie Infinity, the mechanics vary depending on the mode. In PvP or “Arena” you fight against human players; in PvE or “Adventure” the battle is against NPCs, which stands for “non-player characters,” meaning against the machine.

In the legendary Tetris we find four main mechanics: rotations, the sequence in which new pieces that fall are generated, the point system when lines are cleared, and the mobility that allows the player to control the fall and rotation of the pieces.

Difference between mechanics and gameplay

It’s important to understand the difference between game mechanics and gameplay. The concepts are similar, but they are not the same.

As we’ve noted so far, mechanics refers to the game design aspects that establish rules to follow.

Gameplay is what actually happens within the gaming adventures, based on the rules, but with a degree of unpredictability.

It’s interesting to review at this point the article Defining Game Mechanics by Miguel Sicart, which addresses the concept that we’re reviewing here. The specialist indicates that mechanics alone do not determine the game from start to finish, but rather users interpret and appropriate them.

Thus, when games reach the hands of players, modes emerge that developers did not anticipate when they conceived the title. This step explains the difference between mechanics and gameplay.

One more piece of information before moving on.

Gameplay (as interaction) is the main difference between video games and other art forms, such as literature, film or theater.

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In those, the creator determines what will happen in the plot; i.e. rules that (beyond specific exceptions) are not broken. Romeo falls in love with Juliet and that doesn’t change when the work is read or a theater is attended.

In video games, developers establish the mechanics, but in use (gameplay) certain factors are altered.

Typical Mistakes in Video Game Mechanics

Efficient mechanics are the result of the work of good game developers, who typically work in multidisciplinary teams.

Of course, the gaming industry has plenty of examples of mistakes in game mechanics, both in the past and present. Let’s see some cases.

  • Impossible-to-skip scenes: Certain releases include cinematics or introductions that may be attractive at first, but are very annoying if they cannot be skipped once we have played the level several times.
  • “Morality” systems: A few years ago, video games that asked the player to choose whether to be good or evil proliferated. This mechanic added a degree of immersion, but in many cases the proposal was ineffective, as happened in Mass Effect, where the choices did not truly lead to versatile experiences.
  • Undesired QTEs: These are events that require a quick reaction from the player, for example, quickly pressing a button, and if you do not succeed, receiving a penalty, such as a decrease in the character’s energy. The Game Designing site mentions Resident Evil 4 as an example of this mistake.
  • Too many mechanics: This is one of the main mistakes in this field. The abundance of mechanics leads to difficult games, with frustrating learning curves that often result in abandonment.

In conclusion, game mechanics are a key factor in the development of video games and therefore in the player’s experience.

Note that mechanics do not make the games themselves, but are part of a series of factors that, combined, determine the characteristics of video games, their degree of interaction, difficulty, and narrative, among other variables.