Author’s note: I’m attempting to develop a method for game analysis around irreducible game elements (gamels). This and all the other articles are a sort of log of my thought process, and are not definitive truths. Please feel free to react or comment in any way.

I often run out of words to describe what I want to talk about. My approach in these cases is to just make up a new word.

6x4 picture elements

6x4 picture elements

The concept of game elements or objects has been around long enough, but its real definition is still quite vague. There is the uneasy proximity of terms with the OOP objects, which tend to represent or encapsulate game objects but also do a bunch of other stuff. You could also be talking about any thing that’s visible on-screen, or limit them to what the player manipulates. You could also talk about a character’s inventory or… Well, I think you might have guessed the point by now, so I’ll stop.

Viewing the current state of game analysis and criticism, I believe we can’t afford precise definitions. There is just too much stuff we don’t know yet.

The term I’ve chosen makes a direct reference to pixels (picture elements), and with good reason. A pixel, according to wikipedia, “is the smallest component of a digital image”. Gamels would then be the smallest component of a game.

Of course, game systems have no physical size, so “smallest” needs to be read as “indivisible” for this case. The easiest way to think of a gamel is as a quantum of behavior, just as a pixel is a quantum of color.

So, accordingly, the gamel hypothesis implies that game systems are entirely made out of behavior, which sounds quite plausible. I’ll happily assume from this plausibility that I’m not wrong and that gamels are a valid concept (I never said I would be rigourous , sorry).

With this in mind, gamels can be rules or NPCs or weapons or whatever. What is really important is that gamels can’t exist all by themselves. The quantum of behavior they hold exists only if another gamel can act on or be acted upon by this gamel. For a game to be, there has to be at least two gamels, and at least one gamel has to influence the other.

Consider, as an example, the simple game of “throw something”. This very simple game can be analysed as a system of three gamels (with no walls to bounce off): a hand, a thing and gravity. These three gamels are tangible, they can be called concrete gamels.

The hand applies behavior (initial velocity) to the thing. The thing‘s physical properties and gravity determine its complete trajectory. The thing and gravity are constant gamels, but still they must interact. All interactions are direct and explicit.

We can make the game more complex by adding rules, which are abstract gamels. An added rule might be catch, as in “catch the thing when it falls”. This gamel is triggered when the hand stops the thing. It is implicit in the sense that it doesn’t influence directly another gamel, but its nature strongly determines the way the hand will apply velocity to the thing (throwing it upwards instead of far away, for instance) if the system wants to achieve a “win” state.

To sum things up, gamels can be classified according to two criteria: concrete/abstract and explicit/implicit.

A concrete and implicit gamel in the hand-thing-gravity example could be the proximity of a natural obstacle in which the thing might get lost if thrown into, effectively ending the game. An abstract and explicit gamel example could be a rule stating that the thing has to be catched with a different hand each time, thus influencing directly the hand gamel.

I plan to expand on this concept, but I had to settle the naming convention once and for all, hence this article.

If you think gamels are a really bad idea, please let me know so as I don’t build a whole theory around them for naught.

2 thoughts on “Gamels – game elements

  1. Gamels seem like a great idea and certainly solve a lot of communication problems. As game design becomes a field of study, it needs to find a vocabulary to rely on.

    However, you may want to consider the use of “ludeme” – which could be a synonym for gamel. It’s not exactly “accepted”, and certainly isn’t part of any dictionnary, but some designers seem to begin using it (most notably Raph Koster).

    But then again, “ludeme” seems to lack a clear definition, so in building a theory, you might be better off with gamels :). The most interesting part for me is the classification along the two axes, which might provide a good way to use the concept in practice.

  2. I thought about ludemes a lot while writing this article actually, but as I recall (I can’t find my Theory of Fun copy…) ludemes were very broad “play verbs” that could be very easily mistook for game mechanics.

    Gamels are probably much more atomic than ludemes, I think. You could describe a ludeme as an arrangement of gamels, maybe?

    As usual, time will tell. Anyways, thanks for reading and responding, Evgueni!

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