About Aesthetics of Play

Video games are typically divided into genres based on the mechanics they use (first-person shooter, platformer, endless runner, match three, etc.). These genres, however, are largely useless when it comes to finding new games you might like to play—they do a poor job capturing games that combine different mechanics or disparate styles of play (Portal, for instance, is a first-person shooter puzzle game).

Instead of traditional genres, what if we had a classification system for games that captured the different emotional needs we go to games to fulfill? That's what the Aesthetics of Play are all about. There are 9 different aesthetics, each of which captures a different emotional experience that games can deliver:

You can read more about the different aesthetics in the sections below, or watch the Extra Credits video about the Aesthetics of Play for even more information (or to really get into the depths of it, check out the original academic paper where they were first described; Hunicke, et al. 2004).

Games deliver on an aesthetic when they give us the emotional experience associated with that aesthetic. Most games tend to deliver on a few aesthetics from the list above — these are the Core Aesthetics of that game and this website is designed to help find the Core Aesthetics for as many games as possible. Games can and often do have moments that satisfy non-core aesthetics — just as a film can have some funny moments without necessarily being a comedy — but the Core Aesthetics are the ones ubiquitous throughout the entire experience. Most games have 4 or fewer Core Aesthetics that they deliver on really well, and this site endeavors to list them.

Want to help? Create an account and start telling us why you play the games you play! The more answers we have, the more accurately we should be able to tell which games deliver on which Core Aesthetics. Is there an aesthetic you really enjoy? Search for all the games listed under that Core Aesthetic!


Game as sense-pleasure

If you play a game because of its fantastic music, beautiful graphics, voice acting, or the way it makes you move physically, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Sensation.


Game as make-believe

If you play a game to escape from your life and enter another one, to pretend you're someone else, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Fantasy.


Game as drama

If you play a game to watch a story unfold, watch characters grow or experience an epic plot twist, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Narrative.


Game as obstacle course

If you play a game specifically in order to overcome the obstacles that the game sets in front of you, even if they aren't difficult at all, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Challenge.


Game as social framework

If you play a game to work together with other people to progress in the game or to bond and enjoy yourselves, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Fellowship.


Game as expression of dominance

If you play a game to dominate another player or to prove (either to yourself or others) that you are better than someone else, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Competition.


Game as exploration

If you play a game in order to explore new areas or learn about items, people, or strategies, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Discovery.


Game as self-discovery

If you play a game to make choices that teach you something new about yourself or to explore new parts of your character, preferences, or personality, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Expression.


Game as pasttime

If you play a game to pass the time pleasantly, like watching a movie you've seen many times already or a rerun of an old TV show, you're enjoying the aesthetic of Submission (also called Abnegation).

References: Extra Credits. "Aesthetics of Play - Redefining Genres in Gaming" Season 5, Episode 13. 2012. Available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uepAJ-rqJKA. Hunicke, Robin, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek. "MDA: A formal approach to game design and game research." Proceedings of the AAAI Workshop on Challenges in Game AI. Vol. 4. No. 1. 2004.