Agency is the player’s sensation that they participate meaningfully in the game.
In my article on analogy, I hinted that designers design abstract mechanics and then apply analogy to make the system most accessible to players. That is not a representation of how most people design video games today, it was merely a set-up for talking about analogy without diving too deeply into the properties of the abstract systems that underlie games.
Analogy is how the designer bridges the gap between the player and the abstract mechanics of the game. Analogy makes relatable and relevant what would otherwise be a litany of abstractions and seemingly arbitrary relationships.
My method of understanding and designing strategy games starts off with a triad of critical concepts which I call the AVA paradigm–a somewhat memorable acronym combining the first letters of Agency, Variety, and Analogy. The interaction of these three concepts lies at the core of strategy game design. They each represent certain values which one must balance when designing any strategy game, and their substance is what attracts players and keeps them playing.