Game design models can help us create better experiences for our players. The Gameplay Enjoyment Model (GEM) and Gaming Goal Orientations (GGO) models were developed through research on people's preferences and motivations for playing video games.

Gameplay Enjoyment Model (GEM)

The Gameplay Enjoyment Model (GEM) represents the enjoyment that players experience while playing video games. It was developed through an iterative series of research studies on player preferences and individual differences. The model describes 41 different game design features, 9 specific components of enjoyment, and an overarching enjoyment factor. GEM helps us understand why people enjoy games. Further, GEM enables us to design games that are enjoyable for many different kinds of people.

Context, Architecture, Representation (CAR)

At the most basic level, gameplay enjoyment can be broken down into three components: Context, Architecture, and Representation. Taking the first three letters of each word, we can think of Context, Architecture, Representation as a car (Figure 1). Using this metaphor, Context reflects the social aspects of games. A car has a driver and passengers, much like a game has players. Architecture involves the components that make a car run, like tires, axels, and an engine. In games, these elements are typically referred to as mechanics. Meanwhile, Representation refers to a car's shape, paint, and other stylistic elements. In games, these would be things like graphics, characters, and narratives.

Figure 1. GEM reminds us that games have different types of components, like a car. Some are part of the social Context for the participants. Meanwhile, others compose the underlying Architecture that make things run. In contrast, Representation features are often visible and contribute to the aesthetic experience.

GEM Components

GEM (Figure 2) provides an overarching enjoyment component, which describes players' overall enjoyment of video games based on 41 game design features. Meanwhile, the 9 GEM components, along with their underlying features, describe specific ways in which players experience enjoyment in games.

Figure 2. GEM has a total of 41 underlying game design features, 9 empirical components (MP = Multiplayer, CP = Companionship, RN = Recognition, DC = Discovery, CH = Challenge, ST = Strategy, FI = Fidelity, FA = Fantasy, ID = Identity), the conceptual CAR layer, and an overarching empirical enjoyment component.

Beneath the CAR layer, the 9 components and their underlying features are defined.​

Context

  • Multiplayer is the enjoyment of games that involve more than one player, multiplayer, online multiplayer, cooperating with other players, competing against other players, and competing with other players online.

  • Companionship is the enjoyment of games that involve socializing with others, playing with friends, spending time with friends, and playing with many people at parties.

  • Recognition is the enjoyment of games that involve high scores, leaderboards, player rankings, public recognition of the best players, displaying one's skills in public, and comparing one's skills with others.

 

Architecture

  • Discovery is the enjoyment of games that involve exploring unfamiliar places, discovering unexpected things, searching for hidden things, surprising things, chance events, and exploring the inner workings of the game.

  • Challenge is the enjoyment of games that are difficult to beat and master, and have a challenging difficulty level and challenging obstacles to overcome.

  • Strategy is the enjoyment of games that involve a high level of strategy, a high level of skill, and experimenting with different play strategies.

 

Representation

  • Fidelity is the enjoyment of games that feature realistic graphics, 3D graphics, lifelike animations, and realistic sound effects.

  • Fantasy is the enjoyment of games that feature imaginary creatures, fictional characters, a fantasy world setting, and characters whose abilities do not exist in the real world.

  • Identity is the enjoyment of games that include characters of a different species, race, gender, and identity than the player's own.

Gaming Goal Orientations (GGO)

Gaming Goal Orientations (GGO) is an empirical model that helps us understand player motivations in a gameplay context. GGO is an application of educational goal orientations, which have been researched for decades, to the less explored area of gaming. The GGO motivations (Figure 3) apply whenever players are demonstrating their competence, or ability to perform, in games. Competence can be measured in the absolute terms of a task (such as earning a certain score in a game), relative to the self (such as one’s own past performance), or relative to others (such as the performance of other players). In addition, players can be motivated to approach (seek competence) or avoid (shy away from displaying incompetence) their goals. Taken together, this model provides six dimensions that describe how different players are motivated to perform in a gameplay context.​

  1. Task-Approach is the motivation to attain absolute competence, such as being able to beat a game.

  2. Task-Avoidance is the motivation to avoid demonstrating absolute incompetence, such as being unable to beat a game

  3. Self-Approach is the motivation to attain relative competence compared to one’s own past performance, such as completing more levels than in a prior attempt.

  4. Self-Avoidance is the motivation to avoid demonstrating relative incompetence compared to one’s own past performance, such as completing fewer levels than in a prior attempt.

  5. Other-Approach is the motivation to attain relative competence compared to the performance of others, such as being able to beat competitors in a multiplayer game.

  6. Other-Avoidance is the motivation to avoid demonstrating relative incompetence compared to the performance of others, such as being unable to beat competitors in a multiplayer game.

Figure 3. GGO apply when players are demonstrating competence (top left). An individual can view competence in the absolute terms of a given task (bottom left) and be oriented towards an approach or avoidance motivation. At other times, one may have a relative orientation (center). We must ask to whom the motivation is oriented. It may be one's own self (top right) or other people (bottom right). Again, within the self or other categories, a person may be oriented towards an approach or avoidance motivation. Thus, we have six distinct goal-oriented motivations for a given gaming context. Nevertheless, it is important to note that these motivations are not mutually exclusive and they can change between different contexts, such as when playing different games.

References

See these publications for more details on the research underlying the game design models.​

  • Quick, J. M., & Atkinson, R. K. (2014). Modeling gameplay enjoyment, goal orientations, and individual characteristics. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 4(2), 51-77.

  • Quick, J. M., & Atkinson, R. K. (2014). Gaming goal orientations: An empirical motivation framework. In C. Williams, A. Ochsner, J. Dietmeier & C. Steinkuehler (Eds.), GLS 9.0 Conference Proceedings (pp. 538 – 540). Pittsburg, PA: ETC Press.

  • Quick, J. M., & Atkinson, R. K. (2014). Gameplay enjoyment, gender, and 19 individual characteristics more influential than gender. In C. Williams, A. Ochsner, J. Dietmeier & C. Steinkuehler (Eds.), GLS 9.0 Conference Proceedings (pp. 257 – 260). Pittsburg, PA: ETC Press.

  • Quick, J. M., Atkinson, R. K., & Lin, L. (2012). The Gameplay Enjoyment Model. International Journal of Games and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 4(4), 64-80.

  • Quick, J. M., Atkinson, R. K., & Lin, L. (2012). Empirical taxonomies of gameplay enjoyment: Personality and video game preference. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 2(3), 11-31.

  • Quick, J. M., & Atkinson, R. K (2012). Empirical game design for explorers. In W. Peng, B. Winn, C. Heeter, & C. O'Donnell (Eds.), Proceedings of the Meaningful Play 2012 Conference, USA, 1-11. 

  • Quick, J. M., Atkinson, R. K., & Lin, L. (2012). Confirming the taxonomy of video game enjoyment. In C. Martin, A. Ochsner, & K. Squire (Eds.), Proceedings GLS 8.0 Games + Learning + Society Conference (pp. 257-60). Pittsburg, PA: ETC Press.

  • Quick, J. M., & Atkinson, R. K. (2011). A data-driven taxonomy of undergraduate student video game enjoyment. In C. Steinkuehler, C. Martin, & A. Ochsner (Eds.), Proceedings GLS 7.0 Games + Learning + Society Conference (pp. 185-190). Pittsburg, PA: ETC Press.