A skill chain provides some rather useful information about the state of the player as they engage the game. Imagine that the skill chain is the instrumented dashboard that lights up with the player’s progress. At any point in time you can tell the following information
Diagram 10: Icons for skill status
We’ve talked a little bit about mastered and partially mastered skills. Unexercised skills are pretty self explanatory. If a player can’t perform the actions necessary to understand a skill, that atom will never be exercised or mastered. Mastery flows down the chain and if players are blocked early on, they’ll never each the further atoms.
The two states that are worth a bit more explanation are active skills and burned out skills.
The player only experiences the joy of mastery for an atom only once. After the moment of mastery, a biological feedback system kicks in that dampens the pleasure response to exercising those same pathways again. What was once exciting becomes boring.
However, players will continue exercising an already mastered atom as a new tool for manipulating their world. A mastered atom is as good as a shiny new hammer hanging from a workman’s belt. When a new opportunity comes up, typically in the form of an atom further down the skill chain, the player makes use of their new skill to advance their knowledge.
Players have enormous patience. They are willing to exercise a basic skill atom thousands of times in order to achieve mastery of a higher order atom. Players jump innumerable times in Super Mario Brothers in order to reach more powerful skillsets further down the chain.
A skill that has been mastered and is now simply being used to activate other icons is represented by the lit light icon.
Diagram 11: Active Icon
Players don’t always bridge the gap between one atom and the next. They master a new skill, they play with it but fail to find any interesting use for it. This is known as burnout.
Diagram 12: Burned out icon
For example, suppose our player pressed the jump button. They performed the jump and we recorded their mastery of the skill. However, this particular player never figured out that how the jump might be useful. Perhaps they didn’t jump near the platform and receive interesting feedback on the next atom. After a short period of experimentation with no interesting results, the player stopped pressing the jump button entirely.
When a player burns out on a particular atom, the consquences ripples up and down the chain.