Player skill in games is achieved when players feel that they have an understanding of the game or a possibility to perform actions in the game that were previously not possible. When this skill level is sufficiently far from the initial level, players can feel that they have achieved Game Mastery, and those watching them play can recognize this when compared to other players.
Example: The difference in being able to make use of game pieces in Chess and stones in Go between masters and novices is so large that novices in practice have no chance of winning against an expert.
Example: The actions of moving and shooting in first-person shooters, as well as coordinating activities in multiplayer versions of those games, offer such a wide range of Game Mastery that experts can do it mainly subconsciously, while novices might have troubles understanding what is happening in the Game World.
Designing games to support Game Mastery consists of providing activities in which skill can develop and making it possible for players to train those skills.
The number of possible skill areas in games are of course impossible to enumerate but can be categorized into three main areas: those dealing with dexterity, coordination, and other bodily skills are related to Dexterity-Based Actions, Rhythm-Based Actions, and require real world Timing; those dealing with mental skills are related to Memorizing, Puzzle Solving, Experimenting, Resource Management of Limited Resources, and Timing in games with Turn Taking; and social skills, mainly related to Negotiation, Storytelling, Paper-Rock-Scissors, and Betting. Predefined Goals and Stimulated Planning not only support Game Mastery in mental skills but modulate other forms of Game Mastery by allowing players to prepare before starting the activities.
Games involving Randomness can also support Game Mastery but do so most commonly through Strategic Knowledge about probabilities in the games and not directly through the Randomness or any player perceived Luck. Games that allow several of these types of challenges to be used for the same purposes not only allow Varied Gameplay but allow different forms of Game Mastery within the same game, typically due to Asymmetric Abilities. This also allows for a compound form of Game Mastery where players try to master all types of gameplay, which encourages Replayability. In Multiplayer Games, this can mean that one has multiple Competence Areas, and quickly adjusting to needed Competence Areas in Multiplayer Games can be an area of Game Mastery itself.
Knowing when to perform actions is also a part of Game Mastery. Development of such Strategic Knowledge may be due to required Risk/Reward choices or Tradeoffs, knowing when to perform Extended Actions, and the long-term consequences of Penalties and Rewards.
The Right Level of Difficulty is important for players to be able to train Game Mastery. If the game is too difficult to begin with, players will not be able to reach basic levels of skills while, if the game does not continuously provide more difficult challenges, the increasing of skills may stagnate. Having Smooth Learning Curves makes Game Mastery most likely to occur, and can be instantiated by gradually increasing the Right Level of Complexity and overall difficulty. This is most easily be controlled by using Levels, where the exact amount of Enemies and other threats can be set. Multiplayer Games allow the difficultly to increase naturally if all players learn at the same rate or players can choose opponents at the same level of expertise. This can be modulated by Handicap, so that players have a wider range of suitable opponents.
Illusionary Rewards may be used to promote Game Mastery, although players' intentions for performing and training activities will in these cases not always be equal to game designers' intentions of why they should perform these activities.
Game Mastery gives players Emotional Immersion through Empowerment, and the possibility of getting this is in itself a cause for Replayability in games. Besides expertise in certain actions, Game Mastery often involves some form of Strategic Knowledge, most commonly knowledge of the long-term differences between Tradeoffs and better understanding of Risk/Reward choices. This Strategic Knowledge is Trans-Game Information passed between game instances, and striving to gain it can be seen as a form of Investment from players.
The level of Game Mastery in games that support Cognitive Immersion or Spatial Immersion can often be judged by the level of Immersion players have in them. This is because the Immersion is often a sign of being proficient in the skills required by the game design. Emotional Immersion is not so commonly an indicator of Game Mastery since this form of Immersion rarely increases players' chances of affecting the game state, the main exception being through Player Decided Results.
That players have Game Mastery is most usually revealed through Overcome goals, Perceivable Margins, or Game State Overview. Randomness and Balancing Effects both make Game Mastery more difficult to notice, if not to achieve. Symmetry, in contrast, is most often used to create Player Balance so that difference in outcome between players is more likely to be the result of Game Mastery than other effects.
Game Mastery can be maintained past game sessions through Tournaments or High Score Lists with Handles, and can create or increase Social Status, especially if the game designs supports Spectators. However, this often also gives Red Queen Dilemmas, as players need to improve their Game Mastery simply to maintain their position against other players. If Game Mastery is easily perceivable to other players, cases where players perform Bluffing about their skills in the game may emerge, but these forms of Meta Games are usually not part of designed gameplay and most often linked to Extra-Game Consequences due to Betting.
Instantiated by: Competence Areas, Perceivable Margins, Collaborative Actions, Trans-Game Information, Resource Management, Rhythm-Based Actions, Overcome, Experimenting, Memorizing, Limited Resources, Puzzle Solving, Tradeoffs, Negotiation, Predefined Goals, Stimulated Planning, Timing, Dexterity-Based Actions, Risk/Reward, Strategic Knowledge, Smooth Learning Curves, Paper-Rock-Scissors, Betting, Right Level of Difficulty, Right Level of Complexity, Storytelling
Modulated by: Spectators, Extended Actions, Penalties, Asymmetric Abilities, Tournaments, Multiplayer Games, Red Queen Dilemmas, Player Balance, Illusionary Rewards, Handicaps, Rewards, Immersion, Levels, Turn Taking, Varied Gameplay, High Score Lists, Handles, Luck, Symmetry
(C) Æliens 04/09/2009You may not copy or print any of this material without explicit permission of the author or the publisher. In case of other copyright issues, contact the author.