Analyzing Video Games

When analyzing a video game, one should examine the four elements that are common to all video games: graphics, an interface, an algorithm, which is the computer program that is running the game, and some kind of player-controlled activity occurring on-screen, which is also sometimes referred to as interactivity.

Graphics involves a changeable visual display on a screen, with pixel-based imaging. An analysis of a game’s graphics would include an examination of many of the same elements that are found in other media—visual design, color, lighting effects, point of view, and so on—as well as character design and other graphical elements such as title sequences, cut-scenes (scenes in between game levels), and credits.

The interface is at the boundary between the player and the game itself and includes such things as the screen, speakers, and input devices like a joystick, keyboard, or game controller, as well as on-screen elements like menus, buttons, and cursors. How the interface is designed influences the player’s experience of the game, for example, a driving game using a steering wheel will be quite different from one using a paddle or a keyboard. Likewise, on-screen tools like menus and informational graphics may be designed to be integrated into the game to some degree, and will also affect how the game is experienced.

An algorithm is a computer program that controls the game, and responds to the player’s input. It controls all the graphics, sound, and events of the game, and all the computer- controlled players within a game (it also controls the player-character, but with input from the player). Since the algorithm is made up of computer code, we cannot read it directly (without hacking into a game), but we can come to know it through the playing of a game, as we notice what responses are given for what player actions, and what rules seem to govern the gameplay. A good analysis of the game’s algorithm may reveal the workings of a game, and ways that a game can be beaten.

Finally, there is the interactivity of the game. This can be divided into two areas: what the player does with the interface during gameplay (like hitting buttons or moving joysticks), and what the player’s character is doing on-screen (for example, running through mazes or shooting). The second of these areas is one which we can examine in detail as we consider what kind of choices the player must make during a game, and how those choices are structured and make up the game.

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