While reading chapter 7 of Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop I was struck by the diversity of things that can be prototyped. According to Fullerton, a prototype is a working model that allows for testing of the feasibility of an idea. (203) In relation to video games, physical prototyping is often used prior to programing to fine tune gameplay mechanics. This led me to wonder how far the label “gameplay mechanic” could be applied.
Is movement a gameplay mechanic? I think it depends on the game. In some old school arcade games movement requires simply the push of a joystick in the desired direction, and its only purpose is to get to the next enemy. However, in games like those of the Assassin’s Creed series players have to evade enemies by running, climbing, and jumping. To successfully do this requires more skill, as players must manage speed, direction, and route accessibility (e.g. am I jumping for a handhold, or will I fall to my death?). Even arcade games are not immune to this phenomenon. In the original Donkey Kong arcade game one of the gameplay mechanics was to avoid projectiles by moving away from them. If movement was not a part of gameplay, then it would be near impossible to miss the projectiles and win the game. Arguably, my earlier example of using movement to get to an enemy also counts, but to a lesser extent. It is also worth mentioning that many video game tutorials include instruction on how to move the player character around.
Overall, I would say movement counts as a gameplay mechanic. Is it always a main gameplay mechanic? No. In both contemporary and earlier video games movement is an aspect of gameplay, but sometimes there are other mechanics that have a bigger impact. While some may think this is a drawback as it makes it more difficult to categorize what is and is not a gameplay mechanic, I disagree. The fluid nature of the importance of mechanics I feel is a sign of how wonderfully diverse and creative games are.
Donkey Kong. Nintendo, 1981. Arcade Game.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 7: Prototyping” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.