Game Design Lineages: Minecraft’s Inventory

Chris Bateman, José P. Zagal


Game design is conditioned by the practice, both formal and inormal, of drawing from previous designs as a source of knowledge and inspiration. Innovation in game design is thus often the result of old ideas recombined in novel ways. We propose the concept of the game design lineage as a framework for tracing, analyzing, understanding and explaining the historical significance of specific design elements in games. In addition to game design elements, a design lineage should consider a game’s socio-cultural context, including the design and player practices of its creators, and the relationship between these and the prevailing player practices of the time. We contrast this with approaches that consider individual games  as their unit of analysis – e.g. comparing different games with each other and establishing connections between them without considering the historical context of their player practices. We feel this approach, while insightful for understanding changes between games that are superficially similar, risks implying a strict Linnaean-style inheritance pattern (inheritance by genre), and thus struggles to account for games with a diversity of design elements that originate elsewhere. We argue that the flow of influences in game design is typically fluid and heterogeneous, and not constrained by genre. Key to this concept of a game design lineage is the role of player practices; i.e. how players receive, perceive and interact with games, and the ways these have shaped the ideas that are then implemented. We illustrate the game design lineage approach with an analysis of Minecraft’s inventory system, tracing its different elements across multiple games, genres, designers, and player practices.


Game design lineage, player practice, RPG, Minecraft, D&D, Dungeon Master

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Published by the Digital Games Research Association.