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Gamification: The Three Levels of Design 01 – Abstraction3 min read

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Dynamics, Mechanics, Components
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Gamifying a system involves high level conceptual work, and one model which can help you go from general to specific is Ward’s three levels of design abstraction. The three levels discussed Werbach and Hunter’s For the Win are dynamics, mechanics, and compoments.

In this post, we’ll examine the very high abstraction level of dynamics.

1 Dynamics

Dynamics are the high level human, intrinsic goals and needs you want to meet, including: 1

1.1 Constraints

Constraints are your  limitations or forced trade-offs. What will you NOT allow your users to do? What will you not allow your AI to do (like always win!)?

1.2 Emotions

What emotions do you intend to leverage to make the game fun and exiting? Emotions you must plan to create or manage include curiosity, competitiveness, frustration with things like difficulty levels, happiness, relaxation, and so on.  When choosing your dynamics, you should ask:

  • What feelings do I want to encourage in my players?
  • What emotions do I want to mitigate?
  • How should this game make you feel?

1.3 Theme

The theme must often be chosen in combination with the narrative arc (discussed below), but themes can include the following development models and motifs:

  • farming / animal husbandry
  • buildling
  • war
  • athletics or competition
  • ancient, modern, or futuristic times
  • magical or realistic

1.4 Narrative Arc

Most games need a consistent, ongoing story line to help give the game a sense of progression, and perhaps even archetypal meaning to the players.

There are two camps that are sometimes opposed to one another in game circles – ludology (not to be confused with Luddites) vs. narratology. The former emphasizes pure game mechanics, and that you don’t need a story, for instance, to make Candy Crush popular. The narratologists believe that also employing story can enhance the game, and for many games, like RPGs, it is essential for deeper engagement. When choosing your dynamics, you should ask:

  • What is the narrative arc  that best represents the development of the player, and the content and style of our game?
  • Is the main player following a hero’s quest monomyth
  • Are there multiple races or player types with backstories and familial histories?

1.5 Progression

The player’s growth and development, and how it is measured and conceived of in steps. You need to answer questions like:

  • What attributes will indicate progression? Ranks? Levels? Both?
  • What are the overall ranks? How many?
  • Is there leveling within the ranks? If so, are they numbered?
  • In addition to defining your progression stairs, you need to consider which types of progressions you will measure and reward. What does the final state of an advanced player look like?

1.6 Relationships

The social interactions generating feelings of camaraderie, status, altruism, and so on you want to encourage.

  • Who are their friends?
  • Do they have enemies?
  • Will there be cohorts or teams?


Understanding these three levels of abstraction can help you design a good system. Having the high level concepts of your desired dynamics defined allows you to move on too the specific mechanics you will use to meet those goals.

  1. Werbach, Kevin; Hunter, Dan (2012-10-30). For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Kindle Locations 1110-1114). Wharton Digital Press. Kindle Edition.[]