Suppose one were to write a manual for a game, where 'game' can be either a video game or board game - that doesn't matter. Are there symbolical/analytical ways to write down a set of rules for a game, as for example a formal language?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Who is the intended audience for this manual? Usually in games we use the word "manual" to refer to a document that players will read, and they generally lack specialized knowledge of a formal language for expressing rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Oct 4, 2021 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ And for video games, everybody stopped writing user-manuals about 20 years ago. Common wisdom is that a well-designed video game should be self-explaining. When the player needs to consult an external source to understand what they are supposed to do, then you need to improve your tutorial, your UI and/or your affordances. Back in the 90s, all the console manufacturers had strict design guidelines about user manuals. But those were always platform-specific. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Oct 5, 2021 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may also be interested in Game Description Language or some of the other options in the Representations of Games listed here \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Nov 24, 2023 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


Joris Dormans's Machinations is an attempt to create a formal diagramming language for expressing game mechanics - especially those that relate to resource flows.

By thinking of "player action" as a resource, or mechanics involving navigating connected locations in space as a series of resource pools that the "player presence" resource can move between, you can stretch this to cover more general classes of game mechanics - with a little squinting/imagination.

This language takes the form of a kind of flow chart, with tokens that can sit within each node, and well-defined rules for when and how tokens are moved from one node to another.

Example diagram of Super Mario Bros 1 Score Calculation from Machinations.io website demo

There's a web-based tool you can use at machinations.io to create these diagrams, as well as to "run" them as automated simulations or interactive minigames, to explore the dynamics produced.

This is suitable for documenting the dynamical engine at the heart of a game design, for an audience of fellow designers/game developers well-versed in this particular diagramming dialect. It's not so suitable for communicating to players or other less specialized audiences. It also abstracts away many aspects of game mechanics - like the means the player uses to provide input, or the perceptible affordances and feedback the game provides, so it can't serve as a complete game design document on its own.


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