[Continuing the series of posts in this theme of trying to define the areas of dissonance within the Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics model, this concentrates on Unresponsiveness the breakdown within mechanics.]
I have to collect five belts and I have three of them. There is a chance, on each red bandit killed, that I will get one of these belts. I have been at this for twenty minutes. I aim for the next enemy and prepare.
Wait for the recharge. Start the spell to hold the enemy. While the enemy is held, charge the more powerful but longer preparation time spell. Get ready for melee — wait. What just happened?
My character was frozen in the cycle of following an animation. My Undead Mage was making her hand motions over and over again for the spell. I was playing World of Warcraft and I had just experienced something that is common to many Online games: high latency.
The time it takes for data to travel between machines over a network is called the latency. Ideally, the lower the latency the faster the two machines are able to communicate and the greater degree of information can be passed between them. The threshold between the required degree of information and the bandwidth available is where lag is introduced.
Lag is the point where the synchronicity between a server and the client is not matched. One or the other attempts to pass information and, before it can be acted upon, more or less information is then received than is needed. This manifested itself through a looping animation for me but that experience is an example of Unresponsiveness.
In the MDA model, unresponsiveness is the point where the mechanics fail to respond to the dynamics, player actions. Remember that the mechanics in this model represents both the ruleset of the game and the assets of the game, the combination of which is the content. So, when the feedback loop between the player actions and the rules is broken, dissonance is introduced. When the input from the dynamics are still part of the cycle but the mechanics fail, this is unresponsiveness.
There is a difference between the unresponsiveness of the player and that of the ruleset. When the player fails to respond to stimuli, the ruleset should have a condition for this. This is Sonic tapping his toes, Borderlands characters complaining or an arrow pointing to a move in Puzzle Quest. This is an animation or response to the player inaction. This is not true unresponsiveness as an action continues. The player, as a free agent, can always choose not to act. The unresponsiveness then is defined in reference to mechanics only.
Unresponsiveness is the pole opposite of the Sensation aesthetic. When the feedback loop between player actions and their interpretation through the game mechanics are working and information is traveling at the needed bandwidth, the player experiences a sense-reaction. There is an emotional response and input continues. However, if the “server” (mechanics) stops responding to the “client” (dynamics), lag happens. This latency is unresponsiveness.