If I can make the assumption that all gameplay is based on pattern recognition challenges, it's pretty easy to start pulling together the pieces and participate in the pattern recognition challenge of recognizing pattern recognition challenges.
The thing to remember about these challenges is that they're all about the player's PERCEPTION. If you're thinking in the MDA framework, we're talking about aesthetics. The only thing that matters is what the player experiences - what patterns the player sees. If the patterns you're using can't be portrayed, the player will see only noise. That's not necessarily bad - patterns can have noise and randomness (at which point the player's interactions involve minimizing losses from it) - but it needs to be remembered.
The whole of the challenge is from the player PERCEIVING the dynamics, DEDUCING the pattern, and ADJUSTING his actions to TAKE ADVANTAGE of it. These four bits are the whole of gameplay. EVERYTHING (that isn't pointless) in EVERY game can be reduced down to these four components, or this theory is wrong. So, hey, knock it down if you can. I love that sort of thing.
So what's the difference between the MDA framework and this one? Well, in theory, this one is more inclusive and actually has a logical method of utilization. The MDA framework, for all its ivory tower beauty, is only marginally helpful when it comes to designing games. It's pretty darn handy for dissecting them, though.
Even things which at first do NOT appear to be connected to this pattern recognition challenge system ARE. All that eye candy? It's there to assist one of the three things - the perception of the dynamics, the deduction of the pattern, and the methodology of the taking advantage.
For example, in racing games you generally see cars and have a specific style of forward-facing viewpoint. This is to point you directly towards the dynamics. It's going to be a racing game. You know how racing games work. You know most of the dynamics. This means that the player has a head start on deducing the pattern (which is largely how the car and the track interact over time).
You see a game including knights and dragons? It points to the fact that at least one of the game's patterns involves the dynamics of a fantasy society. We immediately think of things like kings and wizards and ancient ruins. Again, this is a direct link into the pattern we can expect.
How about character design? Well, aside from the fact that a design can tell us what to expect from a character, it also often associates a character with a particular emotion. For example, classically princesses, animals, and children were used to build empathy. This is related strongly to the player's methodology of TAKING ADVANTAGE of the pattern - they get the player to try to manipulate the pattern to benefit the characters they have empathy with.
You have to establish what the player WANTS to get from the gameplay. Aesthetics is certainly a way to do this. As is the gameplay itself - the METHOD and HISTORY of interactions with the pattern. That's something for a slightly later time.
As you might be able to tell, it's not just what is classically considered 'gameplay' that this covers. The game itself is a giant system for OFFERING A PATTERN RECOGNITION CHALLENGE. The pattern is important, obviously. But many game designers seem to miss the fact that the RECOGNITION and the CHALLENGE are just as important.
In the upcoming week, I hope to explain specifically how to create pattern recognition challenges from a viewpoint that is actually helpful to a designer. We'll see.