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The Lens of the System of Experience

Could the previous assertions on the system of Experience be used to inform Game Design?

Glenn Storm, Blogger

December 31, 2009

43 Min Read

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The Lens of the System of Experience1

If there were any consensus on the previous assertions regarding the components and dynamics of the system of Experience, the concepts could be applied to practical aspects of Game Design for the purposes of informing both design decisions and the refinement of the system itself. In this post, the concepts outlined previously will begin to be applied as we look through The Lens of the System of Experience; a way of observing common Game Design aspects in the language of the system of Experience. It might be reasonable to start such a survey with the primary experiential concept coined by Johan Huizinga: The Magic Circle.  Everyone should feel encouraged to join the discussion and comment on or debate the assertions presented. All relevant comments are welcome and appreciated.

The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle is the game world, as defined by the rules of the game and inhabited vicariously by players. It is that virtual space in which players freely enter and abide by the rules of the game in order to receive the experience the game provides. In terms of the system of Experience as asserted, the Magic Circle represents a specific subset of the Cognitive Model of the world, including its own discrete input channels and available actions valid to the game world. The Magic Circle represents an altered Experience, and as such, the player is expected to alter their perceptions, thinking and actions accordingly.2 Yet, in terms of the processes undertaken by the system of Experience, there is no difference in how the player operates between the real world and within the Magic Circle. Players will interpret sensory input in the frame of contextual reference of the Magic Circle to arrive at Perception relevant to that world. Players will make associations of Reliability between Cognitive Model subsets within the Magic Circle. Players will store significant experiential elements of Memory for future use and they will use the Cognitive Model of the Magic Circle, along with any detections of regularity, to arrive at Prediction. Likewise, all other systematic factors as described thus far can be applied to the system of Experience that is operating within the Magic Circle.


1 Much of this presentation is owed to Jesse Schell’s fantastic book, “The Art Game Design: A Book of Lenses”. Not the least of which is the idea of the Lens as a practical alternative to the concepts of theory, heuristic or guideline. This presentaion takes minor liberties with the idea; expanding on the catalog of Lenses of Game Design that Jesse began, but used here in particular to reveal the system of Experience and its operations within the context of some common considerations for game designers.

2 Commonly, the Magic Circle will not be entirely abstract but will include some analogous elements as compared to the whole of Experience, allowing new players to make some interconnectivity relationships with existing reliable Cognitive Model subsets. For example, one of the first questions is typically, “What’s the object of the game?”; whereby a reasonably coherent theme of the game will readily provide not just the answer to that question, but an implied set of actions, obstacles and strategies in line with that theme. By taking advantage of the common processes of the system of Experience, those implications are easily associated between the real world and the Magic Circle.

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