Game Design 101: The Big Model Pt 1

I’m sure some of you have figured out by now that these Game Design 101s have so far focused on the game design methods used members of The Forge. Ron Edwards used the site to help develop out theories of his own and these all led to his own design, which is the topic of today’s entry. The Big Model. As with any theory, it has failings and criticisms, but it also offers some strengths.


So, what the heck is it? Unlike the previous design aids, it is more of an overall theory than a plug and play tool. To start with, let me offer the image below. This is what is used as a visual for how it works.


It is connected with a theory known as GNS, which I will get to that another time. In fact, it connects to several other theories, ideas and subjects. The more I have thought about today’s topic, the more I feel that it may be too soon to address this in full measure. Because of this, I have delayed almost two days trying to decide how to approach it. I finally decided that today I will just give an overview of the basic concept and the individual areas. At some later point, I will return to this topic with an expansion into Part 2 and beyond.


The Big Model Overview

This was created as an attempt to encompass all of game design into a single working model. It tries to tier experiences to better understand how they apply to one another and to focus on the way gameplay progresses. Each nested circle is considered to be ‘within’ the scope of the greater circles. The arrow offers how players approach a game.


Creative Agenda

Many explanations of the Big Model put this towards the end. I am going to put it at the start because I think it is important to understand. This is the player. What the player likes, doesn’t like and how they behave are viewing the game fall here. The model has terms for each, but for now know that there are three types. Gamists, Simulationists, and Narrativists. Each wants something different from the game and that desire is going to influence how they progress through and react to the various circles of the model.


Social Contract

Playing a game at all puts you into the scope of Social Contract. Every relationship, emotional reaction, or interaction with another person falls here. The model doesn’t address baggage from outside of the game, so the various isms (sexism, racism, etc) aren’t directly addressed. Instead, it is more of a generic overarching category.



This gets broken down into five elements, but for the sake of this overview it is enough to just note this is creating fictional situations through imagination and communication. Without digging into those elements, there is less to say than might otherwise be the case, so I will leave it at that for now.



Verb, it’s what you do. Yeah, all of the things you do around the table (or wherever the game happens to be played) fall into this. Sure, that includes talking, but also mechanics like drawing cards, rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors, etc. Every game has it’s own unique set of techniques that are meant to influence the exploration element.



Those things which happen ‘in the moment’. All of the little minutia associated with each small instance within the game. This is the substance of play itself. Taken together, this is what your game session is made out of.



So by now some of you are asking yourselves “What is the point?” I guess that depends on you. Some people hate this and find it a waste of time that doesn’t address things well. Others find it useful in understanding how to move through their game design in a way that focuses on how we play. Applied right and in the right situation, it could potentially help make your game much more solid and design work move more smoothly. Another tool in the toolbox.


Anyway, since I have opened this can of worms, I am going to have to start dealing with it. Next week I am going to start focusing on some aspects of game design that will put us into a better place to really dig into the meat of design. That and they will let me return to this subject later for a bit of focus on several elements more deeply.

Have you had an experience with the Big Model? Let me know how you feel.

What are your thoughts?

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