Mastery or Expression

Mastery is about instinct.  Expression is about planning.

They do not seem to co-exist.  In areas where they intersect, goals and motivations become muddled and confused.  Mastery mechanics become meaningless through weak systems or save-and-reload style user control.

Games are typically designed to explore the former and not the latter.

It is likely no coincidence, though, that the top rated and top selling games skew heavily percentage-wise back to Expression, so that they are far more balanced again.

Mastery benefits greatly by extrinsic motivators such as story, pointification, and levels, that provide rewards and focus the mind on the suggested goals.  Expression benefits greatly from more intrinsic motivators like rule-system control, accessible expert-knowledge, and creative creator-spaces.

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One thought on “Mastery or Expression

  1. So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying that Mastery is overcoming a challenge, posed by the designer, that has a solution where the difficulty is in the execution. Designers should teach players how to play the game properly in order to succeed.

    Expression, on the other hand, lets players toy with the game world and create their own experiences. There is no “right way” of playing the game.

    With these definitions, I don’t see why you say that most top-rated, top-selling games feature more Expression than Mastery. I would’ve thought the opposite is true, that games today, especially successful ones targeting the mass market, are being engineered to tell players exactly what to do and when, to craft experiences that will be the same (equally exciting) for everyone.

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