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Towards Videogame Aesthetics I: Aesthetic Concepts

What You Like and Dislike in Games

question_mark.ihobo What words do we use to discuss what we like and dislike about games? The words people use in specific contexts reveals something about their relationship with that aspect of life, and this is true of games as much as anything else.

What words would you use to describe what you like or dislike in the context of:

  • Game pacing, that is, the rate at which content is added to a game  e.g. “well-paced”, “slow” or a “grind”.
  • Virtual worlds, that is, the fictional worlds of games e.g. “beautiful”, “dark”, “dull” or “immersive”.
  • Mechanics, that is, the rules and systems of games e.g. “unbalanced”, “perfectly balanced” or “quirky”
  • Compulsiveness, that is, the extent to which a game captures and holds attention in the short or long term e.g. “addictive”, “compelling” or “replayable”.
  • Any other aspect of games I’ve not mentioned

Feel free to simply describe games you are currently playing or your favourite games in whatever words you choose – I’m interested in the words we already use to describe our play experiences, any anything in this respect could be useful.

Thanks for your assistance!


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Things I like: simple game mechanisms based on timing, reaction time, accuracy... This can be found in many old and "primitive" games, but not only.
In a different category, I also like games that allow me to identify with the character (whether the character is actually represented on the screen or not). This could apply to FPS for some people, but I haven't played any for many years. Older adventure games do that for me, and it's not much about the story, generally I do not care about the story (and hate any kind of non-interactive story development), it's more about having an environment with some coherence and being able to imagine yourself being part of it as you are playing. Then comes the challenge, of course we all need a challenge to keep being interested.
Modern games can be very immersive too (I'm not saying it was always better in the past), but there's too much emphasis on the story for my taste.

Roman Age: thanks for sharing your perspective! I'm curious about how older adventure games allow you to identify with the character... Is this in the sense that the character of the typical text adventure is unspecified, allowing you to write yourself into the role? What term (if any) would you use to describe a game that gives you this capacity for identification?

Similarly, is there a term or terms you would use to describe what you like about this kind of "twitch" play that's based on reactions? Do some reaction-based games 'push your buttons' by making you push buttons better than others? If so, how would you describe the difference?

Best wishes!


A colleague of mine and I have been doing some work using natural language processing techniques to analyze large bodies of game-related text. A lot of this seems related to what you're asking about. So far we have one published article on this:


There's another (that looks at sentiment analysis) but it's currently under review. I can send you a draft copy if you're interested.

Jose Zagal

Jose: This looks absolutely spot on to what I'm asking here! Yes, please send me the draft copy - much appreciated!

Hi Chris,

To answer your questions, trying to come up with specific terms, for adventure games I would mention one word: freedom (which is the main factor allowing me to identify with the character, as explained in my previous comment).
I like being able to take my time, not being forced to progress into the story against my will, being allowed to go back to places in the game that have become familiar. I like to contemplate, just like in real life. I don't like to be rushed. This can apply to any game whether they contain graphics or not (I have played text adventure games a few times in the past, but I do find that ideally old time 2D graphics can contribute to the strongest immersion for me, this must have something to de with the pixel element itself, I have a theory on that but it's not the point now).

For action games, I like very basic controls - the input, that can create infinite variations in the output, i.e. the produced effect. Games that have a simple control system but that still allow a lot of room for developing and mastering your skill. Think of the old game Joust (also called Knight Flight), one of my favourite games of all time. Angry Birds on mobile may tick this box too, I haven't played it though (and I believe it uses some elaborate physics which is crossing the line as far as I am concerned). Anything with momentum, inertia, trajectories, usually does it for me, as long as it really gives you a sense of control (elaborate physics with chain reactions is totally beyond anyone's control). I forgot to name the classic Asteroids that fits perfectly in this category. Some old school top down racing games can be included too (very similar to Asteroids in fact, just with more grip). That's it, don't ask me for modern games, I'm sure those elements can still be found to various degrees (blended with other elements as modern games do not have the luxury to offer just one thing, they have to be huge and offer the richest experience ever otherwise payers will complain and start insulting the developers or any other player).

Roman Age: thanks for expanding your thoughts here! And I think the topic of Joust came up with us before - because I am also a massive fan of this. But I believe you've been emulating on a 360 and I've been emulating on a PS3, so no possibility of co-op.

I think it's tricky to talk of 'freedom' in games - because by necessity agency must be bounded, at least in digital games. (Tabletop RPGs don't have this problem). But I think, perhaps, that the illusion of massive agency was much easier in the text adventures.

Best wishes!

Hi Chris,

The version of Joust that I have known is from Atari ST. I have later played it on a ST-PC emulator.
My concept of freedom in (digital) games is not having endless possibilities like you would have in a table RPG where in theory you can do any action you like, but within the boundaries of possible actions offered by the game, having the freedom to use those actions the way you want. More important, a limited number of actions or movements can symbolize much more, just like behind every pixel of a basic 2D graphic representation lie infinite layers of details that you cannot see on the screen but that are very present in your mind.

Roman Age: Okay, so you are talking not about "infinite agency" but more about open agency i.e. being given a toolkit that can be applied in many different ways without arbitrary restrictions.

In this regard, have you played Minecraft? This seems to me to offer something close to this idea.

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