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Subject: Game Mechanic or Game Mechanism? rss

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Brandon Bernard
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I had a friend point out to me a while back that the gaming community incorrectly uses the word "mechanic" when refering to how a game is played. After looking up the definition, I agreed with him. The things that we refer to as "game mechanics" should actually be called "game mechanisms". Since then, I have been trying to overcome my habit of saying "mechanic" when I really mean "mechanism".

See the definitions from dictionary.com below, and tell me, do you agree?

dictionary.com wrote:
me·chan·ic   [muh-kan-ik]
noun
1. a person who repairs and maintains machinery, motors, etc.: an automobile mechanic.
2. a worker who is skilled in the use of tools, machines, equipment, etc.
3. Slang . a person skilled in the dishonest handling of cards, dice, or other objects used in games of chance.


dictionary.com wrote:
mech·an·ism  [mek-uh-niz-uhm]
noun
1. an assembly of moving parts performing a complete functional motion, often being part of a large machine; linkage.
2. the agency or means by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished.
3. machinery or mechanical appliances in general.
4. the structure or arrangement of parts of a machine or similar device, or of anything analogous.
5. the mechanical part of something; any mechanical device: the mechanism of a clock.


The hard part, of course, is remembering to use the proper word. Even though "game mechanic" is burned into our brains and BGG, I challenge you to try and use "game mechanism" from now on.
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Ted Groth
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Yes, thank you!

"Mechanism" it is.

I was already using it, but I have found it cumbersome to keep switching terms when in a thread where everybody else seems to be using "mechanic" instead.

So I try not to make an argument out of it but I do appreciate when someone else notices.
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Brook Gentlestream
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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English wrote:

me‧chan‧ic

1 someone who is skilled at repairing motor vehicles and machinery:
a garage mechanic

2 the mechanics of (doing) something
the way in which something works or is done:
The mechanics of the process are quite complex.

3 mechanics
the science that deals with the effects of forces on objects:
quantum mechanics

4 mechanics
the study of machines:
He is studying mechanics at college.
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Richard Dewsbery
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A mechanic is a bloke in oily overalls who fixes things with a spanner. I don't want any of them in my games, thank-you. Mechanisms it is.
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J C Lawrence
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Rather.
 
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dictionary.com?

Well if it's on tha interwebz it must be true!

There's a wonderful place called a LIBRARY.

They have these things called BOOKS.

Some of these books are called DICTIONARIES (see, that's where that comes from).

A real DICTIONARY will tell you that one definition of "mechanic" is a synonym for "mechanism".
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Brook Gentlestream
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The Lone Gamer wrote:
dictionary.com?

Well if it's on tha interwebz it must be true!

There's a wonderful place called a LIBRARY.

They have these things called BOOKS.

Some of these books are called DICTIONARIES (see, that's where that comes from).

A real DICTIONARY will tell you that one definition of "mechanic" is a synonym for "mechanism".


I'm going to test this theory out one day when I leave my house.

edit: Nope. Amazon delivers. Yet another reason never to leave the house.

edit: Hmm, the Amazon rep has informed me that they out of stock on libraries and that shipping one would be incredibly expensive.
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Det var bara en hake...
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The Concise Oxford Dictionary, the definition of all that is pure and good, thinks a "mechanic" is a person only. I've been trying to write "mechanism" instead of "mechanic" for a long time.
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RDewsbery wrote:
A mechanic is a bloke in oily overalls who fixes things with a spanner.


Until you add quantum, when it becomes a third thing.

(It's a conspiracy, we made the language this complicated so we can tell who the foreigners are. But someone let the Swedes and the Dutch in on it.)
 
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Scott Nicholson
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I've been fighting this fight for a while now.

The problem I run into is when I talk with people in game scholarship - the term "game mechanic" is what has been used in accepted scholarship, so it's what people use.

I do get challenged on using "mechanism" frequently and asked to define what the difference is. I simply state that it is the more appropriate word to use. I've been called out by the game studies professor here in a class to defend my use of the term after using it in my MIT board game colloquium. (http://cms.mit.edu/news/2011/09/podcast_scott_nicholson_from...)

But it is an uphill battle.

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Brook Gentlestream
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I don't think Mechanism is an appropriate term to use, since it implies a certain function or output. For example, a game has a mechanism to determine the first player. It has a mechanism to provide income. It is the means of doing something, and may include one or more mechanics.

The mechanics are the basic principles and building blocks that make up the game. They are more abstract then a mechanism, which specifically refers to the work/movement of things.

A mechanism implies an input and an output, a function, something being accomplished. Everyone draws one card each turn is a mechanic, not a mechanism, until you specify what the purpose of the mechanism is than it can be both.

Thus, mechanics are more abstract and refer to components. A mechanism is a system, and is useful when analyzing the interaction of different mechanics.


edit: Your definitions above refer to a mechanism as an arrangement of parts, and thus not the parts themselves. They further refer to it as an assembly, lending support to my argument that a mechanism is a system of mechanics.

edit: In Citadels, you can spend one action to draw a card. When you do, you take the top two cards, throw one on the bottom of the deck and add the other to your hand. I suppose it would be appropriate to call this whole sequence the drawing mechanism.
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The word has changed meanings. There is no going back... shake
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lordrahvin wrote:
The mechanics are the basic principles and building blocks that make up the game. They are more abstract then a mechanism, which specifically refers to the work/movement of things.


Note that "mechanics" and "mechanic" have separate entries in the dictionary. I don't think anyone objects to this use of the word "mechanics".
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Scott Nicholson
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Well, now, this is interesting. Inspired by the "go to the LIBRARY" suggestion above...

I decided to look at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Under mechanic, the final definition is:

"6. A device, method, means.

1924 M. W. Beckwith Jamaica Anansi Stories 122 So lot of men went to the house an' try all sort of mechanic; the chil' wouldn't talk.
1988 Grocer 22 Oct. 155/1 Advertisements‥will invite readers to sample the brand through two mechanics. The first will reward 20,000 respondents who ring a special hotline with a free miniature through the post.

1990 Games Rev. Jan. 51/1 This is a neat game mechanic which should have been ripped off by more games designers."

Take a look at the 1990 usage example from the OED, which many (including me) accept as definitive.

This is something I've never seen before, but is convincing to me that I should relax on the use of the word "mechanic".




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snicholson wrote:
Well, now, this is interesting. Inspired by the "go to the LIBRARY" suggestion above...

I decided to look at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Under mechanic, the final definition is:

"6. A device, method, means.

1924 M. W. Beckwith Jamaica Anansi Stories 122 So lot of men went to the house an' try all sort of mechanic; the chil' wouldn't talk.
1988 Grocer 22 Oct. 155/1 Advertisements‥will invite readers to sample the brand through two mechanics. The first will reward 20,000 respondents who ring a special hotline with a free miniature through the post.

1990 Games Rev. Jan. 51/1 This is a neat game mechanic which should have been ripped off by more games designers."

Take a look at the 1990 usage example from the OED, which many (including me) accept as definitive.

This is something I've never seen before, but is convincing to me that I should relax on the use of the word "mechanic".


If you accept the OED as definitive, then shouldn't you accept the OED's approach to recording the English language as definitive? The OED accepts that language evolves, but if everyone followed your lead and refused to use a word until the OED "approved" it, then language couldn't evolve because no one would ever use a term in a way not recognized by the OED. English would have been trapped by the first version of the OED. English would have stopped evolving after 1928.

The use of the term game "mechanic" is now at least four decades old.* It is widely used and widely accepted within the relatively small gaming community. Whether or not any dictionary detected and recorded this use in the gaming community wouldn't prevent me from using the widely accepted and widely understood term. I do not understand why someone would conceivably spend 40+ years arguing that some group's jargon is wrong when it clearly works for nearly everyone.

*See, e.g., Richard C. Giberson, "Jutland Play-by-Mail," The General, July-Aug. 1968, at 9 ("This article will deal with the mechanics of play[.]"); Raymond K. Witmer, "Jutland Rebuttal and Six Variations, The General, Jan-Feb 1970, at 7 ("Let's take an example to show the mechanics of the rule."); Lenard Lakofa, "Random Thoughts," The General, May-June 1971, at 4 ("After you have played the game once or twice, so that you have the mechanics down pat . . . .").

The meaning was not necessarily fixed in these earliest years and perhaps a similar debate to the one in this thread occurred in the early years of hobby gaming. See Tony Leal, "Combat Results Analysis, The General, July 1966, at 7 ("The method affords a good mechanical procedure for finding the best way to fight multiple-unit battles.").

If there was a debate, I'll speculate that Donald Greenwood might deserve the credit for the term "mechanic" coming to dominate. He used the term "mechanic," and he is one of hobby gaming's founding fathers. See Donald Greenwood, "Buyers' Guide," The General, March-April 1967, at 4 ("So, without further explanation let's get into the mechanics of the chart."); id. (describing Avalon Hill's D-Day as having "easy mechanics.").

Edit: Here is the OED describing its approach: "An exhilarating aspect of a living language is that it continually changes. This means that no dictionary is ever really finished."

http://www.oed.com/public/oedhistory#steps
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Brook Gentlestream
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Using linguistic relativism to quell semantic activism is like trying to toast peanut butter with a broiler.
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Patar Absurdus the Shananigator
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lordrahvin wrote:
Using linguistic relativism to quell semantic activism is like trying to toast peanut butter with a broiler.


What a bunch of pretty words strung together? wow
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Brandon Bernard
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The Lone Gamer wrote:
dictionary.com?

Well if it's on tha interwebz it must be true!

There's a wonderful place called a LIBRARY.

They have these things called BOOKS.

Some of these books are called DICTIONARIES (see, that's where that comes from).

A real DICTIONARY will tell you that one definition of "mechanic" is a synonym for "mechanism".


There are also physical dictionaries that do not include this definition. Since I did not have a physical dictionary readily available, I decided to use the internet, yes. Dictionary.com is not some bizarre website run by a 12 year old that is user editted. It can most certainly be an accepted source. Believe it or not, there are accepted sources on the internet. Every definition provided by dictionary.com was true. There may be a definition that was omitted, but that is no different than other accepted physical dictionaries.

But, no matter, I will mail you my forum post next time.


Thank you all for your responses. These posts have actually convinced me to let go on the hold of "mechanism" as well. I will have to relay this information to my friend.
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Crito wrote:
The OED accepts that language evolves..


This is usually my angle when discussion of semantics comes up. When it comes to the meaning of words, it really does end up being a mob rule. If a word is accepted by the majority as meaning something, then that's what it means.

I don't have immediate access to the OED, but it's interesting to note that Google defines "Mechanics" as the plural form of "Mechanics". Mechanics itself is singular because it describes a set of properties. People are used to the plural of something having an "s" added to the end of it, so instead of treating the word "mechanics" like we would "water", people remove the "s" and "mechanic" morphs into an accepted usage.

But there are words we all use today in a way that used to be incorrect, but none of us could convincingly argue that the old definition still holds.

Awful - Used to mean something that was amazing - Literally, full of awe. Using such language to describe an amazingly intuitive game design that was unspeakably wonderful wouldn't go over so well. "That game was truly awful!"

Artificial - Used to mean something created with great art or talent. Since something hand made that looked exactly like nature took a great deal of skill and artistic talent, those man made copies of things in nature were said to be "artificial", and the definition morphed to fit the popular usage.

Guy - Originally referred to Guy Fawkes. When people burned grotesque effigies of him in protest, they were called "Guys". The term morphed to mean a person with grotesque characteristics, then eventually to mean a man. Now it's becoming gender neutral - in it's plural form at least: "Hey You Guys!"

This can be very frustrating when the words that are changing have a very specific meaning in one field or another, and this slow shift can impede communication. But, I think that it's an uphill battle to rally against the term "Mechanic" as a singular for "Mechanics", or the word "Theme" to mean literary theme exclusively and not the pretty colors and conceit that wraps the movement of the pieces.

That said, I do try to use the term "Mechanism" when referring to a specific rule or small set of rules that interact, and Mechanics to refer to the whole of the interactions for a particular ruleset. But I catch myself saying "mechanic" a lot, which makes me think that the current of language has it's own intentions for the word.
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Earl of Dukes wrote:
I had a friend point out to me a while back that the gaming community incorrectly uses the word "mechanic" when refering to how a game is played.


jargon [jahr-guhn, -gon]  
Origin jar·gon1    /ˈdʒɑrgən, -gɒn/

noun
1. the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group: medical jargon.
2. unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.
3. any talk or writing that one does not understand.
4. pidgin.
5. language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.
verb (used without object)
6. to speak in or write jargon; jargonize.

Nope.
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Brandon Bernard
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hezkezl wrote:


That said, I do try to use the term "Mechanism" when referring to a specific rule or small set of rules that interact, and Mechanics to refer to the whole of the interactions for a particular ruleset.


Yes, I think this makes sense in light of some of the above posts, and I think this is how I will treat the two words. Thanks again all!
 
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It doesn't matter if "every" dictionary has the same variation of the term, I think as long as there is references cited where it does in reputable sources, then we can lay this to rest.

Using mechanic is a valid usage.
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Prescriptivism vs. Descriptivism leads to long un-winable conversations.

Have Fun, folks!

(Personally, I use them both interchangeably, although, I feel mechanism has a more perfect aspect to it.
 
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Redward wrote:
...There is no going back...

Unless of course quantum mechanics are involved!
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snicholson wrote:
Well, now, this is interesting. Inspired by the "go to the LIBRARY" suggestion above...

I decided to look at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Under mechanic, the final definition is:

"6. A device, method, means.

1924 M. W. Beckwith Jamaica Anansi Stories 122 So lot of men went to the house an' try all sort of mechanic; the chil' wouldn't talk.
1988 Grocer 22 Oct. 155/1 Advertisements‥will invite readers to sample the brand through two mechanics. The first will reward 20,000 respondents who ring a special hotline with a free miniature through the post.

1990 Games Rev. Jan. 51/1 This is a neat game mechanic which should have been ripped off by more games designers."

Take a look at the 1990 usage example from the OED, which many (including me) accept as definitive.


Definitive for me up until around 1965. Once you start accepting cretinous misuse as correct usage, you might as well give up on apostrophe's...
 
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