The MDA-model: mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics

The MDA-model (Zubek, LeBlanc, & Hunicke, 2004) is within ludodidactics one of the most fundamental models in game design concerning learning behaviour. MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. Mechanics are the basic elements with which a game is composed on the rules, algorithms and data level. They are the building blocks in gamedesign. Dynamics are the behaviours that are evoked when the user interacts with the mechanics. Aesthetics are the feelings this consequently evokes in the user. In the video below these theoretical principles are explained, using several examples and varying design builds to illustrate various experiences and outcomes.


Video content

In the video below, the theoretical framework of the MDA-model will be explained in detail.

  • Introduction: what are mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics?
  • Examples: (1) clockwork, (2) olympic 100 metre dash
  • 4 different builds supporting the same goals (speed camera example)
  • The importance of early test-runs
  • Using the MDA canvas: organising design elements
  • Recap

Text/concept: Evert Hoogendoorn
Voice-over: Jan-Willem Kluën


Recap: work in retrograde

A crucial part of using the MDA-model to design (learning) experiences is to work in retrograde. In other words: start out with the user’s (player’s) experience (aesthetics) and work your way back to assemble the right building blocks (mechanics) for your design. This principle is similar to reverse engineering.


Recap: organising design elements

Both for beginners as well as advanced designers, it is extremely helpful to organise and structure your design processes. To this end a design canvas is used, to keep track of all the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics that you are configuring in your design. The video has provided a few guiding principles on how to use the canvas.

Examples of MDA design elements

From theory to practice

After coming to grips with the basics of the MDA-model theory, you must be eager to find out how this translates into practice, especially within the realm of music education. The article The MDA-model in the classroom provides a good starting point with two different examples of entry level games: Mini Beats and 3 + 4 = 7. These examples are a good place to start, as both these games do not involve more complex design principles, like the epistemic framework.


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