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Can we define "Game mechanic?" Not Really.

Gary at iceboxdoor.blogspot.com/2014/06/game-mechanics-search-for-definition.html is looking for a hard-and-fast, absolutely precise definition of "game mechanic".

In his discussion he mentioned my entry in the glossary of my book "Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish", which was too fuzzy for him. I'm going to quote the glassary entry:

*Mechanism or mechanic* -- game rules (or game programming for video games) generally describe methods by which the game moves forward, and these methods are the mechanics of the game. For example, rolling two dice and moving your token the sum of the roll around the board is a game mechanic (Monopoly). Moving one piece on an 8 x 8 square board according to the movement capability of the piece is a mechanic in chess. In video games mechanics result in challenges that players take actions (such as moving a joystick or pressing a button) to overcome.

Gary says [The ellipses are his, by the way, not an indication that I left something out.]:
'. . . it's a fine definition. As you might guess... I'm still not satisfied. Pulsipher's definition is much like Wikipedia's. "game rules..." "methods..." and "for example..." Why am I not satisfied? Well, I guess these only seem to hit at the surface. Again referencing rules and listing examples.'

I don't think of glossary entries as definitions so much as descriptions. I try to avoid definitions, because given the fundamental ambiguity of language, especially of English because it incorporates so many additions from other languages, ANY definition of any complexity is likely to be fuzzy to some.

The reason I prefer descriptions to definitions is that, at some low level, all you can do in a definition is substitute another word (that then is subject to the same problems) - for example "method" for "mechanic" (which is what I did). A dictionary typically does this a lot, but there's no way around it, the hope is that the substitute word will satisfy.

Carl Klutzke, in a comment to the discussion, cleverly noted:
"Recursion: noun. See recursion."

Curious about the actual definition of recursion, I actually found one that used the word "recursive" in the definition; using a form of the word to define the word is a real no-no in my view.

It reminded me of 50 years ago, when my family had a multi-volume encyclopedia in which Hurricane just said "See Tornado", and Tornado just said "See Hurricane". Or at least, that's how I remember it. :-)

Some concepts in any field, such as game design, may also not be susceptible to definition. This puts me in mind of the premises that are fundamental to mathematical proofs (such as, the shortest distance between two points is a line, and parallel lines never meet) that cannot be proved though they can be defined. I suspect "game mechanic" is something that cannot be perfectly defined but can be a useful notion.

In the end, if (most) everyone agrees that something is a mechanic, it is. Perhaps that's why "definitions" of mechanic use examples (as I did in my description). I confess, I was more interested in helping those who didn't know what a game mechanic was, than in trying to actually define the term.

It's like trying to define "game". Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen in their book "Rules of Play" spent 80 pages trying to define "game", and then found that puzzles and RPGs had not been accounted for. The effort of defining game can lead to new insights, but no definition is going to be ironclad and satisfy most people.

I recall the big hoorah in some places (such as Fortress:AT) when I discussed in this blog what the word "elegant" means in games, without offering an explicit definition (IIRC). http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2012/01/what-do-we-mean-by-elega... . The word meant very different things to different people.

It's actually more important to differentiate "mechanic", "rule", and "description" than to rigorously define any one of them. See http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2012/01/game-descriptions-rules-...

Almost all definitions are fuzzy. In this wise, my glossary entry is sufficient for most, I think, though it leaves room for "edge cases".

Comments

A simple definition i was

A simple definition i was taught in school was:
"Mechanics" is what the player can do.
"Rules" is what restricts the mechanics.

Example:
In chess, the mechanics enable you to move the pieces around, but the rules restrict the movement down to grids in specific patterns based on what the piece is, one at a time alternating between the 2 players.

Never is a good idea discuss

Never is a good idea discuss a completely clear word. You can talk about other dimensions of the game or create new concepts to describe or talk about games... but you need the word "game mechanic". If you change it you need to create a new word for the same.

No, they arent fuzzy at all because they are pure geometry. You can "discuss" triangle... but triangle is triangle no matter how you discuss about it. Pointless.

Quote: A simple definition i

Quote:

A simple definition i was taught in school was:
"Mechanics" is what the player can do.
"Rules" is what restricts the mechanics.

I had the exact same thing. But think logically about it. And you get another way to look at it:

"Mechanics" is what the player can do.
"Rules" is what guides the mechanics.
Which results in that particular game.

So to the core I got this:
A game is a set of rules.
Those rules tell which and when, mechanics to use.

Since rolling a dice is a mechanic found in many games. But what does a roll mean? Guided by the rules, provided by the game. The word restricted has a totally different meaning.

(A triangle does clearly have 3 points. Further, each line has an infinite amount of points, clearly not pointless (JK))

So essentially, the

X3M wrote:

I had the exact same thing. But think logically about it. And you get another way to look at it:

...

So essentially, the difference is changing restriction to guidance. Indeed a dice roll needs to be given meaning through the rules, in that sense "restriction" is guidance.

Although honestly, this topic has been discussed time and time again. There is another school of thought which does not acknowledge mechanics at all, stating that only rules govern the game, that game-mechanics IS only rules.

That sounds closer to what you have proposed, probably worth reading the design philosophies of game designer Will Wright on the subject. He's the creator of Sim-City and Spore, so if there's any rule based games, hes basically the master at it.

There are some who say that

There are some who say that rules are mechanics. But that is the reason why I said, "the rule is using a certain mechanic".

So I understand why some say, there are only rules, no mechanics.

In that case you could say, a mechanic is a rule.

It is a large grey area in both directions. I think it is only a grey area, there isn't even one clear black or white example in this. If there is? Please let us know.

Yet another way to look at things is that the rules are a set of mechanics to follow (like I have mentioned before). In that case, a mechanic can come back any time. But you could also use the mechanic in another game or a set of mechanics in a different order. The most simple example in this is. "Roll a D6".

Is it a rule, or a mechanic, or both?
And why do you think it is just only a rule?
Or why do you think it is just only a mechanic?
Or why do you think it is a rule and a mechanic?

Those questions have to be answered and agreed on. Or the discussions keep going.

Not even close

Quote:
A simple definition i was taught in school was:
"Mechanics" is what the player can do.
"Rules" is what restricts the mechanics.

Wow, not even close! Rules (as used in tabletop games) have to exactly specify how the mechanics work. Otherwise how would the tabletop game player know what he can and cannot do, and what the game itself does? In video games, those exact specifications are in the game design document or whatever substitutes for it. And what about a mechanic that specifies how prices change in a stockmarket game. That's not necessarily something the player can do, it's something the *game* does.

As I say, it might be better not to try to define "game mechanics". But it's important to understand the differences between mechanics, rules, and descriptions.

1) The mechanics is what the

1) The mechanics is what the player can do. This simply refers to the actions the player can take. Can they move their pieces? Spend their resources? etc.

The rules restrict the result of the actions from mechanics. How far can i move my pieces? How much must resource must i spend to use this ability? and as added, what do these die rolls mean? etc

Rules can bleed into far more complex situations like the stock-market example, but essentially, it is still a restriction on the player's actions from mechanics.

2) Video games go through the same development processes as any other game. It is still, a game. So the term Game-Design-Document remains the same.

3) I don't know what your definition of Game-Mechanics is, or if you even have one. My proposal is one i was taught, and i am simply sharing it. The proper definition goes:

"Game Mechanics is the interaction between Rules and Mechanics. Mechanics allow player actions to take place. Rules set the mechanics in order, based on the context of the game."

Or at least that's how much i remember of it. I felt this definition might help your topic since it provides a definition of Mechanics and Rules, and defines Game-Mechanics in those terms.

Confusing the issue

What you've quoted has divided what people typically call game mechanics into "game mechanics" and something else, "mechanics", two separate things. That immensely confuses the issue. In the context of games, surely game mechanics and mechanics are the same thing?

If you read the blog, you saw my glossary entry for mechanic. That's as close as I'll try to get to a definition. The point of the blog post is that we cannot get a hard-and-fast definition, the idea is too fundamental to games.

Let's say the game adjusts a price depending on supply and demand (and some of that supply and demand does not come from the player(s)). The players don't make the adjustment itself, so it isn't a mechanic by the definition you're passing on to us. And if it isn't a mechanic, then the rules, which only affect mechanics, don't apply. Is this, then, a game mechanic? Wouldn't it make more sense to say that what a player can do is the player's actions, not mechanics, rather than have two separate things containing the word "mechanic"?

1) I am not trying to define

1) I am not trying to define Game-Mechanics as Mechanics. The definition I proposed, expresses Game-Mechanics using Rules and Mechanics. Mechanics is part of Game-Mechanics in a component and literal sense.

2) Adjusting the price of an object is a change in Rules. Again i repeat, Rules is a limitation on Mechanics. In this case, the Mechanics would be spending. The players cannot spend any amount they wish on the objects in the game, the Rules dictate the threshold amounts the players must pay to acquire the items they want

3) I called Mechanics "actions" and Rules "limitations" to express the interactions between the two things, they are by no means the full definition of the words since they encompass broader aspects.

For example, Rules interact with mechanics by limiting it, but this can be guidance as-well, a pricing chart, a trading table, list of die-roll results. But rules also literally limit by specifying, 1 movement per turn, only X spaces per turn, in this specific pattern, 3 dice for the attacker to roll.

4) It would help if you share examples of scenarios which do not fit any existing definition for Game-Mechanics, or this discussion is merely going in circles.

I'm going to go out on a limb

I'm going to go out on a limb and say no definition that uses the same term within the definition can possibly be useful. It is a complete Fail.

If game mechanics and mechanics are the same and not two separate things, you cannot make sense by using "mechanics" in the definition. Period.

Certainly, we are not even close to one another, and the discussion is not going to get anywhere.

I suspect you do not read other's replies in full

"Mechanics is part of Game-Mechanics" I'm not sure what part of "part of" you do not understand.

I can sort of understand why one would complain about a similar name, but that's like saying a watch and stop-watch are the same just because of the name.

The discussion will definitely benefit from examples of scenarios, rules, and/or mechanics in games which do not fit any existing definition of game mechanics

But if you are as insistent on Game-Mechanics being undefinable, as a fanatical christian is on defending God, this conversation indeed will go nowhere

I love it when there is a

I love it when there is a mismatch in definitions. To all I have to say. It happens because we all live somewhere else. Don't get angry about it. (although I find the Christian reference humoristic).

@ Laperen

I get the feeling you see rules as a physical thing like a ruler.

So I kinda start agreeing with you. But to make things clearer. Let me give some examples. One in geometry, one on the board and one in programming.

In geometry:
- The mechanic for the game is the stick that is used (for whatever, lets say placing a flag).
- The rule(r) is that a ruler determines how long this stick is.
- There are many different rulers: in cm, in inch, in gummy bears etc. And it gives a number, thus how high the flag will be.

In a game:
- The mechanic is rolling a dice, 1D6.
- The example rules are:
you use a 1D6,
the number you throw says how much fields you may move, if you throw 6 you may throw again.
- There are many different rules: different dice, perhaps moving +2 fields compared to the thrown number, if you throw 1, 2 or 20 you may throw again. Or even not moving at all when you throw 5. etc. etc.

But all those rules, are not mechanics on themselves but part of the mechanic. (Ah, there it is, the part of)
I can find myself in that definition. In that case the 2 are separate, need each other, but are not the same.

However, moving fields is a mechanic too?
I am sure you agree with me when I say:
Some rules are not a mechanic if they stand alone. Like the, if you throw a 6, you may throw again.
When do you throw a 6? You clearly need a mechanic for that first.

And this is what I mentioned earlier. It is a large grey area. There is no black/white in this unless you can provide with an example.

I think I have come to this:
- A rule is what is determining the results of a mechanic.
- A rule can be a resulting mechanic.
- A mechanic is used for determining a rule.

You can clearly see this returning in programming. (Although, my example might seem very chaotic here)

If we look at programming (a crappy version this is:

1: 0 --> X
2: Label "throwing dice"
3: Random 6 --> Y
4: X + Y --> X
5: If Y = 6 then
6: Goto "throwing dice"
7: Else
8: Move X forward
9: Endif

Line 3 is the mechanic.
Line 4 is a rule that says to add up everything you throw.
Line 5 is a rule that says to determine if you have thrown 6 and what you have to do afterwards.
Line 6 is part of the rule in line 5. And it forces you to go back a little.
Line 8 is a result mechanic from this all.

If you think about it, all the lines are mechanics or rules. But combined is a new "bigger" mechanic that allows a player to move forward.

X3M wrote:...@ LaperenI

X3M wrote:

...
@ Laperen

I get the feeling you see rules as a physical thing like a ruler.
...

wrong, I don't. And with that I give up trying to explain this concept I've repeated 3 times on the same blog comment section. I'll make a final declarative attempt.

"Game Mechanics is the interaction between Rules and Mechanics. Mechanics allow player actions to take place. Rules set the mechanics in order, based on the context of the game."

Mechanics and Rules encompass broad areas. The simplest way to explain it is movement on a board, but is not limited only to that example.

Board and Pieces, mechanics is movement of the pieces, rules are how the board is segmented, how many spaces the piece can move per turn, looking at games like Chess, Checkers, Risk, Cluedo, etc.

Cards, the mechanics is drawing cards, the rules can be the number of cards you can draw, the maximum hand size, how many cards can be drawn per turn, looking at Poker games, Munchkin, all card games in general.

Dice, the mechanics is rolling, the rules are essentially what happens based on the die roll, looking at games like Farkle and Go-Nuts.

Resource systems, how many units of resource must be paid to acquire an item or use and ability, does the supply and demand in the game affect the cost of other items and abilities still available for purchase. Haven't experienced a board game with such a system, but I'm sure it can be implemented with enough effort

Simulated events like attacking or using abilities rough example, attack using a card ability.

mechanic - playing cards from the hand

rule 1 - players have limited health points

rule 2 - resource to pay for action, by default 1 card since you lose a card in hand by playing it. additional conditions can include discarding an extra card from hand, sending a card on the playing field out of play, paying with an abstract resource, etc. Refer to most TCGs for proper examples

rule 3 - attack value on the card is subtracted from target player's health

Rules on defending are then built on-top of the attack rules, but the mechanic remains the same, playing cards from hand.

If this idea on Game-Mechanics is too broad to accept, too bad.

For me game mechanic is the

For me game mechanic is the logical possible sequences of actions created by the strategy and the rules of a game.

In other words: game mechanic is a sequence result of the possible algorithms for a game, the result of discrete and logical functions that are related to rules and strategy.

And strategy is related to efficiency generally.

@ Lewpuls

How about a list of every ones viewpoint?
Every one thinks something different. So it starts looking like that you might be right. At least the conclusion should be that no one agrees about this subject.

Myself, I am not clear yet. It is this blog that made me think about it. While it is also unnecessary for most people.

There are just 2 things that need to be described:
- Rules
- Game mechanics

As said before, I think they are both a shade of grey. Just like how doggy and dog are different, yet the same.

I confess I thought there

I confess I thought there would be more agreement than we see. Instead there's lots of confusion.

My take is in the blog post trying to differentiate rules, mechanics, and descriptions referenced at the end of the blog post.

laperen: "Game Mechanics is the interaction between Rules and Mechanics. Mechanics allow player actions to take place. Rules set the mechanics in order, based on the context of the game."

Either mechanics and "game mechanics" are two different things (even if related), or they are the same thing. There is no other choice. If the former, it confuses the issue by introducing a second term. If the latter, it's using something to define itself. The first is unnecessary, the second is a fallacy, impossible. As it stands this definition is dead on arrival. Perhaps using a word other than mechanics at the end of the first sentence and following would help clarify.

Right, let me rephrase this

Right, let me rephrase this paragraph and see if it makes sense to you.

"Either 'WATCH' and 'STOP-WATCH' are two different things (even if related), or they are the same thing. There is no other choice. If the former, it confuses the issue by introducing a second term. If the latter, it's using something to define itself. The first is unnecessary, the second is a fallacy, impossible. As it stands this definition is dead on arrival. Perhaps using a word other than 'WATCH' at the end of the first sentence and following would help clarify."

Oh, so "game mechanics" and

Oh, so "game mechanics" and "mechanics" ARE two different things, though one is evidently a subset of the other.

Consider, if someone doesn't really know what a watch is (just as those searching for a definition of "game mechanic" don't know what a "mechanic" is in this context), defining "stop-watch" by using the word "watch" gets you nowhere. Dead On Arrival.

If you say a game mechanic is a subset of mechanic (just as stop-watch is a subset of watch), then we have to figure out what a mechanic is. We've gained Nothing.

I wouldn't even mind so much

I wouldn't even mind so much if you critiqued abit on how the proposal wouldn't work as a concept. Instead you keep harping on the name similarity which is frankly getting very annoying.

Fine then, continuing on the naming and definition tangent, the closest dictionary definition for "mechanics" i could get with relevance to this topic was :

"routine or basic methods, procedures, techniques, or details"
eg: the mechanics of running an office
the mechanics of baseball.

From this definition, Rules ARE Mechanics, and in effect Game-Mechanics as well. Then the naming definition thing comes back again. If the terms are identical for our use, why even have separate names?

I can see how it would lead to "abstract-concept-yet-to-be-named", but defining something as undefined doesn't give any structure for developing on, learning from, or make it teachable.

And that is why I am insistent on the proposal. It is the closest concept with structure I have found. Maybe the terms will change over time but it makes sense to me and many others so far. Don't get me wrong, its not perfect, its still vague, but not as vague as "Rules are Mechanics", or "abstract-concept-yet-to-be-named", or "everything-under-the-sun".

Rules are precise

Rules are precise descriptions/definitions of how mechanics work, for the benefit of players or video game programmers. They are not the mechanics themselves. An example of a tabletop mechanic that cannot be a rule: the cube tower used in some semi-wargames. Rules can tell the player what to do, and how to deal with the result, but cannot substitute for the tower itself and what it does internally. Similarly in video games, where the programming amounts to what the cube tower does.

This is a waste of time.

lewpuls wrote:Rules are

lewpuls wrote:
Rules are precise descriptions/definitions of how mechanics work...

Now I'm curious, based on this sentence, we should be agreeing with each other. So what is your definition of Mechanics?

I don't have a precise

I don't have a precise definition - the point of the blog is that this probably isn't possible - but I have a glossary entry, also quoted in the blog. You did read the blog, didn't you? Or perhaps not.

I admit i didn't read the

I admit i didn't read the blog you quoted. I also understood that your point was that the term couldnt be defined, was just wondering if you had a definition either way, regardless of how undefined it may be

Grey no more

I Just looked it up in wiki. After all it is a place where the majority agrees. And since it is a discussion of words, only a majority agreement will determine the outcome.

Quote:

Game mechanics are constructs of rules intended to produce a game or gameplay.

***

This means it is practically speaking everything written in the rule book to get the game going. So game rules are game mechanics.

If you disagree, you need to come with a strong counter argument instead of just saying that we are wrong.

On the other hand. The main issue in this blog might be: when is the rule abstract and when is the rule concrete?

X3M, not that Wikipedia is a

X3M, not that Wikipedia is a strong authority, but quoting an authority and then suggesting I must be wrong if I don't have a counter to it is a fallacy. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority) No matter who is being challenged.

*I'm* more an authority than an anonymous author on Wikipedia, if you want authorities, so we could start with my glossary entry in "Game Design" and then require *you* to provide a "strong counter argument". But that would also be a fallacy.

I haven't simply said laperen is wrong, I've specifically said why.

Btw, Wiki doesn't say rules are mechanics. The mechanics are "constructs of the rules." That is, the rules describe how the mechanics are supposed to work (be constructed), but they are not the mechanics themselves. And of course, there may be rules that are not provided to the player(s), but which specify, e.g., how the cube tower works. Rules aren't always in a rulebook. In a video game design document, the specifications for the (software) mechanics are rules, but they are not rules the players ever see.

Also saying how the mechanics are described/specified/constructed is not a definition in itself, it's an example of how they exist.

An easy way to induce a headache

I've had a serious think about this topic over the last few hours and ended up writing a small dissertation to try to figure it out, largely to no avail, I won't bore you with it here, so instead:

Tl;dr version (still pretty long!)

The colloquial usage of "rule" and "mechanic" does not generally refer to any academically, ontologically or taxonomically specific usage.

The assertion that "we all know what they mean" is only true in the sense of the colloquial, and as such is a red herring when it comes to trying to create a rigorous definition.

I don't buy the idea that we can never define the term either, certainly defining the colloquialism is effectively pointless, as it's highly fluid. But we are certainly capable of constructing a framework for academic study in which the terms are well defined.

There are a number of game ontologies we can refer to (Notably; Zagal, Eskelinen, Salen & Zimmerman), each varies in its approach, and it's fair to say the field is still emerging.

The relationship between the elements commonly referred to as "rules" and "mechanics" varies widely, from 1:1, many:1 and 1:many. That is to say that, some mechanics hinge on just a single rule, some rules create many mechanics, and some mechanics are created from many rules.

If I wanted to offer a tentative definition it would be somewhat multifaceted:

Rule: A requirement that must be fulfilled and/or not contravened in order for a state of play to exist between players. [more specifically, and less decipherably; A clause in the contract-construct that is the game]

Mechanic 1: physical - a property of the physical components of a game not specifically described by the rules, but intrinsic to the function of the game. E.g. the probability distribution of results on a die.

Mechanic 2: compound - a complex, often emergent, property of a combination of individual rules that forms a quanta of game play. E.g. the shooting mechanics of a war game.

Mechanic 3: supra-ludic - an instantiation of an interaction that is not specifically constrained by the rules of the game (or arises as a highly unpredictable result of a single, or very small set, of rules). For example, bluffing in poker, forming temporary and convenient alliances in risk, and other social interactions that are not specifically dictated by rules within the game. "The Resistance" is an excellent example of this type of mechanic, where the rule is more or less "The players decide who should go on the mission" and which can result in deeply complex social interaction that is not strictly confined within the given rule.

So yeah, those are my abbreviated, unrigorous, and largely off the cuff thoughts.

I think its time to wrap up

I think its time to wrap up my earlier conflict with lewpuls.

We have the same idea of what Rules do to Mechanics, but disagree on the definition of Mechanics, or lack there of. I believe Mechanics is the literal the actions the player takes, drawing a card, rolling a dice, moving a piece on a board, spending tokens, etc.

I would agree that Mechanics is hard to define in the context of games, but calling it undefinable doesn't help anything. That probably was the root of the conflict although i did not elaborate it initially

And i would go so far as to call this interaction between Rules and Mechanics, Game-Mechanics. This is the only part of our disagreement I still do not understand.

@FWyver
interesting info with the ratios and ideas on types of mechanics.

They more or less match up

They more or less match up with the examples I provided, 1:1 mapping to the simple dice roll, Many:1 mapping to a series of inter-related dice rolls, and 1:many mapping to complex social dynamics arising out of a very straightforward "Players decide" rule. No doubt there would be examples of physical mechanics that fell under 1:many and many:1 as well, so they're not strictly assigned to my idea of the physical, compound and supra-ludic, but there appears to be some sympathy between them.
As I said, this isn't a well developed ontology.. just a gut feeling.

The book Game Mechanics:

The book

Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design (Voices That Matter) [Paperback] Ernest Adams (Author), Joris Dormans

likely has a definition of "game mechanics". I do not have access to it.

Not a concise one from what

Not a concise one from what I've seen at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=moG9m2rGrTUC&printsec=frontcover#v=on...

It seems to largely assume that its readers already know what is meant by the word Mechanic. This is a problem that exists throughout game literature, the terminology is often so familiar to the writers that they forget to actually define it.

It does however offer some pretty worthwhile generic examples in the first chapter, and there is a fairly lengthy discussion about what mechanics can do. So it's going some way towards a definition.

Without reading the whole book, the closest I can see to a definition is to position mechanics as roughly analogous to rules that aren't written down:

"The video game design community usually prefers the term game mechanics to game rules because rules are considered printed instructions that the player is aware of, while the mechanics of videogames are hidden from the player, that is, implemented in the software for which the player is given no direct user interface. Video game players don't have to know what the game's rules are when they begin; unlike board and card games, the videogame teaches them as they play. Rules and mechancis are related concepts, but mechanics are more detailed and concrete. For example, the rules of monopoly consist of only a few pages, but the mechanics of monopoly include the prices of all the properties and the text of all the chance and community chest cards - in other words, everything that affects the operation of the game. Mechanics need to be detailed enough for game programmers to turn them into code without confusion; mechanics specify all the required details."

This is not a bad little working definition, it seems to be pointing towards the conclusion that mechanics are essentially the rules that the players aren't explicitly made aware of.

I'm not sure I entirely agree, but it is at least a viable position to take.

Adams and Dormans may have

Adams and Dormans may have decided that the disagreements and nitpicking that would result from any attempt at a tight formal definition wasn't worth the trouble, and would distract from the point of the book.

The book is evidently aimed at game designers, not game studies people. The former are interested in designing better games, the latter have quite different goals.

Why not?

Maybe a little reflection is needed about the term "mechanic", because often we all say the same word but we have slightly different ideas about it.
First of it all, we must deal with the fact that many definitions of "mechanics" exist, for different purposes. We should first define WHY are we searching for a definition: is to talk about how game are seen by players? We need it to talk about designing them? We need it because we want to look at them as a social phenomena?

Usually I always take the definition of "mechanics" of MDA Framework. And, form a designer's point of view, I often say that mechanics are the means that allow players' actions to be meaningful in the imaginary space of the game.
I also like Winn's DPE Framework, which includes and expands the MDA. If I want to talk about a single mechanic instead, I usually use Will Mozell's "core\secondary\progression\narrative" diagram. I found these the best to argue about mechanics from the designer's side.

But, anyway, my point is that to talk about mechanics, we NEED to define them someway, even if the definition is circumscribed to that particular discussion. It may be laborious, but hey, no one said that game design theory should be easy. If we don't want to mess discussions up, we can simply talk about "rules" or "procedures", and talk about single action\events.

My 2 cents.

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