When analyzing or creating an experience, we need to be clear about the scale we are operating at. We could be operating at the societal level, or we could be looking at what happens instant to instant, or anything in-between.
Micro, Macro, and Meta Scale
The three broad scales are the micro scale (the core of the experience from moment to moment), the macro scale (the experienced viewed as whole, not just moment to moment), and the meta scale (how it affects the audience outside the experience itself). Each of these broad scales have sub-scales that can be used to more precisely pinpoint the scale, ranging from a frame by frame breakdown to the impact of the experience on a broader society.
- Nano (Micro): The nano scale breaks down exact points in time of individual actions or events. A specific frame in a movie, a single sentence in a book, a single note or chord in piece of music, the instant in which a player’s hand releases a chess piece, the instant in which the muzzle flash starts on a gunshot, the instant in which a jumping character leaves the ground, or the instant in which a puzzle piece locks in to place.
- Moment (Micro): An individual action or event as a whole. A line of dialog in a movie, a paragraph in a book, a short phrase in a piece of music, a single action in a game (a jump, an attack, a block, moving a puzzle piece, playing a card), or a single event in a game (a trap going off, a level being gained, recovering health from a regeneration ability).
- Beat/Loop (Micro): A short sequence of moments, also called a "loop" when the sequence is frequently repeated. A beat within a single scene of a movie or book, a long phrase in a piece of music, a single trick in a card game, an ability rotation in an RPG or MMO, a quick series of wall jumps in a platformer, a set of traps that go off one after the other in a chain, or solving one part of a complex puzzle.
- Segment (Macro): A sequence of beats/loops that form a cohesive fragment of an experience. A scene in a movie, a chapter in a book, a verse or chorus in a piece of music, a hand of poker, a combat encounter in an RPG, a wave of enemies in a top-down shooter, a series of platforms between two save points, or a single level in a puzzle game. Short levels, missions, quests, etc. are often just segments, not full episodes.
- Episode (Macro): A sequence of segments that could form a cohesive experience by itself, even if there is more to the experience. An act in a movie or book, a song on an album of music, a full table in a poker tournament, a dungeon in an RPG, one play of an arcade game, a single level in a traditional platformer, or a set of levels in a puzzle game.
- Title (Macro): A sequence of episodes that constitute a complete, cohesive, arc that can stand on its own. An entire movie or book, an album of music, an entire poker tournament, all the episodes of a traditional digital game, or a multi-episode match or session of an online game. It is possible to have a title that consists of just a single episode (a short story or film, most arcade/web games, etc.).
- Series (Meta): A set of titles that are linked together (loosely or tightly), usually by narrative or other content. A series of films or books, all the albums of a particular band, a traditional retail game series, a series of connected tournaments, or multiple seasons of play in a particular league for most sports. With a game, this also includes activities focused on improving ability to play, such as discussing strategy, practicing, etc. When done with an eye towards the current game environment (as created by the behaviors of the other players), this is called the "metagame".
- Culture (Meta): The social and media environment surrounding a series (even if that "series" is just a single title). This includes elements such as having spectators, media coverage (live coverage, marketing, reviews, critical analysis, etc.), player socializing/community (in a game, on websites, at conventions, etc.), player misbehavior (what the community perceives as aggressive or "sharp" play, griefing, cheating, etc.), and auxiliary works (merchandize, derivative novels/movies, fan fiction, costumes, etc.).
- Society (Meta): How the culture of a series fits in to and relates to an entire society. This includes how those outside the culture of the series (from another culture in the same medium, or completely outside the medium) view and interact with those in the culture. It also includes how external media covers the culture and how ideas, characters, auxiliary works, etc. from the culture leak into other cultures or society in general.
The scale prefixes can be used on just about any other areas of analysis in this theory, including elements, dynamics, composing arcs, and engagement. In a game, for example, micro-engagement is the engagement that a player feels moment-to-moment, macro-engagement is the engagement a player feels over the course of an entire segment, episode, or game, and meta-engagement is the engagement a player feels outside of the game itself. There may be entirely different types of engagement at these different scales.