In this work, I propose an analytical rubric called the Interpretive Spiral designed to examine the process through which players create meaning in videogames, by examining their composition in three categories, across four levels of interaction.
The most familiar of the categories I propose is the Mechanical, which refers to the rules, logic, software and hardware that composes the core of videogames. My second category, which I call the Thematic, is a combination of Arsenault and Perron’s Narrative Spiral of gameplay, proposed in their Magic Cycle of Gameplay model (accounting for embedded text, videos, dialog and voiceovers) and Jason Begy’s audio-visual level of his Tripartite Model of gameplay (accounting for graphics, sound effects, music and icons), though it also accounts for oft- neglected features such as interface and menu design. The third category, the Affective, refers to the emotional response and metaphorical parallels inspired by the combination of the other two levels.
The first level of interaction I explore actually precedes gameplay, as it is common for players to begin interpreting games before playing them, and is called the Pre-Play Level of interpretation. Next I examine the Fundamental Level of interpretation, which entails the learning phase of gameplay. The Secondary Level of gameplay is the longest level of play and describes the shift from learning the game to informed, self-conscious play. The Third and final, elective level of interpretation, is where the player forms connections between his gameplay experience, and other concepts and experiences that exist outside of the game artifact.
To put my model through its paces, I apply the model in its entirety to three influential and critically acclaimed videogames, and in part to several other titles.