In a previous post, I described the general categories of the Player-Game Descriptive Index (PGDI). In this post, I will be explaining the components in the participation category: Agency, Challenge, Power, Reward.
In the participation category are components related to the player feeling like they are participating in the game, that their actions matter.
The agency component is tied to players feeling like what they do in a game actually matters and that their choices affect the game. When players feel like what they are doing in a game is important, that they are accomplishing something with their actions, they are said to have agency. Additionally, agency is tied to the feeling that players are progressing in a game, rather than going backwards. If players can not understand how their actions affect the game, the game has a weak agency component. When players feel like they know why their actions are useful, the agency component is higher. Agency is also lower when a player is denied the use of actions that make sense to the player. Games that allow players to make many decisions are also high in agency, if those decisions are meaningful and the player can understand how that decision might affect the game. Deciding between which of two major characters must die is an element that points at stronger agency. A player with a strong agency component seeks out games that have logical actions for them to perform and games which provide more meaningful, game-affecting decisions. A player with a weak agency component prefers their actions to be prescribed, for games to not change much based on their actions.
The challenge component covers difficulty in games, but more specifically it describes players overcoming obstacles. A game can have a strong challenge component if it presents the game with very difficult, but surpassable obstacles. The player must always feel like they are capable of getting through the game, and that doing so will be difficult in some way. A game that has no capacity for difficulty (the player will always win no matter what they do) can be said to have no difficulty component. The other side of this, though, also results in no challenge component. A game that cannot be won by any set of actions also presents no challenge, just impossibility. Games that provide opportunities for players to challenge themselves will also have a higher challenge component, as the player can make the game more or less difficult for themselves. Players that seek out challenges will be stronger in this component. If a player enjoys imposing extraneous constraints on a game, regardless of if the game supports them, then they will be stronger in the challenge component.
The power component deals with the player feeling like they are stronger in some way in a game. The more the player feels like they control some kind of power in the world of the game, the stronger the power component is. It is important to note that the power component does not make a distinction of the intent or effects of that feeling of power, just the feeling itself. The power component of a game is stronger the more control the game gives players over the game world and its elements. Players with a strong power component want to feel powerful in a game. They really enjoy the feeling of exerting control over the game world and other players.
The reward component describes player actions being acknowledged and evaluated. The more the game provides feedback about the actions of the players, the more reward component it has. Also important is the nature of the feedback. Direct feedback is not as good as tangible or usable feedback. A game with a strong reward component provides the player with something they can use when they do something good in a game. The more the player feels validated for their actions, the more the game has a reward component. Players strong in reward want to feel validated in the game. They want to know that what they did in a game was the correct thing to do or a good action as opposed to a bad action. They want to receive things that they can use in the game as a result of their doing well in the game.