PGDI: Descriptions of the Progression Components

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 progression category: Ability, Character, Goals, Plot.

The Progression Category

The Progression Category

The progression category is represented in green. The components in the category have to do with how the game goes from one point to the next. These components describe how the player goes through the game and how the game is won or lost, as well as describing growth

The ability component is based on the player progressing through the game by obtaining new actions. Actions work like keys that the player needs to find in order to surpass obstacles that prevent the player from completing the game. It is otherwise known as gating, as it provides a gate which needs to be unlocked by a specific ability. Games that require the player to perform specific actions to continue the game will have stronger ability components. The actions that unlock new areas in games with strong ability components need to be actions that are found or upgraded, or else the actions are contributing to another progression component. Even a game that simply hides keys for locked doors around will have some ability component, as unlocking a door with a key is an action that must be found. Players strong in the ability component want to open up areas of games by finding new actions and abilities. They like having obstacles to overcome which are comprised of spatial and mechanical parts; something must be traversed or done in some special way that must be discovered. These players like growing by gaining a number of actions which have recognizable purpose in the game.

The character component describes a progression where the growth of one or more characters is required to continue. This growth can be on any level, mental, emotional, physical, etc. It is important, though, that the character growth is not as a result of searching the game space for some action that will allow them to continue, but is more related to a gain of power. A character might get stronger and be able to defeat more powerful enemies as a result, but if the only way to defeat those enemies is to find a special weapon that allows the player to damage them, then this does not contribute to the character component. Games that provide characters that level up and increase in statistics will be stronger in the character component. Some games will do this not with numbers, but with changes in feedback. A good rule of thumb is to determine if the character is growing as a result of internal growth or external growth. If it is internal growth, it is the character component. Players who are strong in the character component want to get through the game by making their character(s) stronger and more capable. These players want their obstacles to be something that becomes easier over time.

The goals component describes progression through clearly defined objectives that the player must complete. The game will set up goals for players and tells them that if they want to continue, they must meet that goal. Games strong in the goals component will have these goals more clearly stated or obvious. Games where the goals are implied are weaker in the goals component. Goals are usually performance-based, requiring the player to perform the game well enough to reward them with the next part of the game. Games that rely mostly on goals for progression tend to be laid out in stages, each of which has an individual goal. Players strong in the goals component want the game to tell them what they should be doing, and give them clear objectives. Progression for these players is more like a test than like an obstacle.

The plot component deals with a steady progression from beginning to end. The game advances because the series of events in a game dictates it. Games strong in the plot component march steadily along towards an end, providing the player with events one after another. The plot component is often doled out via narrative feedback to the player. A game strong in plot might have scenes rather than stages. Events in games with a strong plot component are laid out in a sequence. The events have to be understood in order to continue on to the next one.  Players strong in the plot component want to play a games that need to be understood in order to continue. These players want to be able to follow the game from start to finish and have it make sense, due to the string of events that occurred. Many players who are strong in the plot component play a game to experience a story.


2 thoughts on “PGDI: Descriptions of the Progression Components

  1. While I mostly agree with your categorization, I’d like to trouble a few things.

    First, I think the notion of character should be linked more to personality than to stats. A body/equipment distinction is an artificial one in virtuality. Spec Ops: The Line was one of the best character-oriented games, in well, forever IMO, and had no change in Walker’s stats (aside from weapons equipped) through the entire game. Meanwhile, an Action RPG like the Diablo series is stats-centric, with very little characterization. This might not be what you intend, but you’re right about the difference between Ability and “bigger numbers for the same thing”. What else can change in games?

    Similarly, linking Plot with progression through the game, regardless of player performance, doesn’t strike me as matching actual games. Few games allow failure as an option. Games which are “story heavy” (Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect spring to mind, and even Braid and Myst) require restarting from a checkpoint so the progress of the story is not interrupted. Only Rogue-likes allow real failure as an option, and they’re characterized by plotlessness. I think a better way to think about this might be the sequentiality of a game, the order in which the player is forced to experience it, alters the experience. From example, in Mass Effect 2 major events (Omega Station, the dead Reaper, the Suicide Mission) must occur in order, but the player can pursue the companion missions in any order. A corridor shooter (Call of Duty etc) has a strictly prescribed order of events, while many puzzle games have no sequentiality whatsoever.

    • incobalt says:

      I would say that I think you are confusing what constitutes a character in a story with what constitutes a character in a game. The focus isn’t on personality or on statistics, it is on growth. The player’s representation in the game can grow a number of ways. I haven’t played Spec Ops, but if you say the character’s growth is important to the advancement of the game, then it may have as strong a character component as Diablo II. Both games require the characters in them to grow in order to surpass greater obstacles. They do it in different ways: Diablo II characters grow by means of statistics and Spec Ops by means of personality (if I’m following your argument), but both might have less of a character component as Knights of the Old Republic, where the characters must grow on both a numbers and an emotional level.

      As for plot, I realize that I may have described too much a game that has a very strong plot component. Originally, these descriptions were extracted and rewritten from descriptions that were based on a gameplay example. The game I used to describe plot was Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain, for the most part, will continue to the end of the game even after many serious failures (some of which result in the death of playable characters). The plot dictates that the game must move forward. As I had this too firmly in my mind when I made the description of the plot component, I mostly described Heavy Rain, and less described what the component looks for. That’s definitely my oversight, and I’m going to rewrite its description.

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