A computer or video game's gameplay is the experience imparted to a player when playing the game. It is sometimes referred to as playability (a quantitive, instead of the more fitting qualitative measure, but that's just arguing semantics). The quality of the gameplay is the only important measure of a game's success.

Gameplay depends largely on the design of the game - the structure of the environment, the controls, the difficulty, the balance of rewards and challenges. It's two-way communication. All of these factors will only be addressed well if the creators thoroughly play existing games and continually test and tweak their game during development.

Gameplay is affected to a much smaller extent by the graphical and sonic components of the game - back in the old days, these elements could be discarded out of hand, but with modern games, the "feel" of the game and how it responds to the player (e.g. with convincing physics, fear- or excitement-envoking music, graceful and synchronous animation) can contribute to the rewards and punishments dished out, as well as making the mechanics of interaction more enjoyable* (e.g. driving in Interstate '76 is relaxing and engrossing, while Dogtanianing hapless trolls in Severance is tense and cathartic). Yet still a game can get all the aesthetic elements right and still fail to have good gameplay.

Gameplay cannot be accurately gauged from a short period of exposure to a game - something that has occasionally led to magazines overlooking a slow-burning classic. Good gameplay is often addictive. It always requires a significant expenditure of effort on the player's part, which is probably the core reason why gamers are wary of the encroachment of the general public (casual gamers) on their hobby.

If developers cater for these new players by making games easier, they run a risk of damaging the gameplay. This is not always the case however, as replayability (see almost every coin-op) and hidden depth (secrets, moves, subquests...) are areas that can be concentrated on to bolster a game.

Then we have multiplayer gameplay, which extends the experience in all kinds of interesting ways.

Now go and play a game and think about why you like it (or why you don't). Gameplay is ongoing research.

*or the best example of this ever, ever : attacking people with the Hydras in Heroes of Might & Magic II.

Gameplay is an emergent quality that arises from the quality and quantity of non-trivial choices in a game's design.

Sid Meier says "A game is a series of interesting choices." Taking this working definition forward, we can say that gameplay is a measure of the choices available in a given play environment.

Example 1 (interesting choice):
In D&D (third edition), crossbows have a threat range of 19-20, but their crit multiplier is only x2. Long- and shortbows have a threat range of 20, but their damage is multiplied by x3 on a successful critical hit.

Adding a third dimension to the choice, crossbows require a partial or full action to reload (depending on type), while bows can fire every round. At lower levels, this isn't an issue, but once a character has multiple attacks per round it becomes pivotal.

Example 2 (meaningless choice):
The first few rounds of Monopoly are a minefield of dumb choices. There is never a situation when you would not want to buy a property (until at least the mid game), and never a time when you can avoid paying rent when you land on a property. Coding an AI to play through the early game would be a trivial job.

This situation does not change until late in the middle game, when Go To Jail suddenly switches from penalty to blessing, and the unwritten rules of property trading and coalition-building begin to close the game.

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