I started thinking about the anatomy of an action, when I was working on my last post on emotional tension.  I started thinking, what is the thought process  when we take an action and how does that change our experience.

So today we will focus on: “What is the thought process when we take an action”.       We will leave the other part for some other day if I remember.

We will look at this subject in 3 ways.

  1. My starting thought.
  2. Shewhart’s PDCA.
  3. Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop.

So let’s get started

The starting point.

My initial thoughts about actions came from listening to various discussions on podcasts such as The Game Design Round Table, Ludology, and Gamers With Jobs

I thought the process of an action was …

  1. Plan: We think about the action we are going to take.
  2. Act: We do the action.
  3. Results: We see the effect the action had and move back to planning.

So in Tick-Tak-Toe, we see the grid and pick a space. We draw our “O”. Then check the board state.

We will get to what I think now at the end.

Shewhart’s PDCA

PDCA comes from the world of business management, playing off of the scientific method.  Similar to my start point, the process  goes like this.

  • P) Plan: Think about your action.
  • D) Do: Do your action.
  • C) Check: Check what you did.
  • A) Act: Adjust your strategy.

So again with Tic-Tak-Toe P) pick your space on the grid. D) Draw your “X”. C) see the result of your “X” A) check the result of the “X” on the overall game.

Both of the previous action loops are good at describing action and assessment.  But say very little about context and our own experiences.  Shewhart’s loop is particularly focused on larger events like a turn or even a series of games. But how about fast actions like in the card game Spit, or interrupting actions or reactions like instances in Magic The Gathering? Which brings us to our last model of an action.

Boyd’s OODA loop

I swear the US armed forces can get money to research stuff the universities can never touch.  In this case the Air Force’s Colonel John Boyd lead researcher on how we make decisions. In a game, a decision and an action is almost indistinguishable.

The OODA loop is broken down like this.

  • O1) Observe: Look at the game state and the recent changes.
  • O2) Orient: Your experience, heuristics (rules of thumb), and biases come in to the action.
  • D) Decide: Choose what you want to do.
  • A) Act: Do that thing you decided to do.

Feedback: At the end of the “D” step and the “A” step there are feedback loops to the first “O” starting the process over again.

So let’s look at this with our friend Tic-Tak-Toe.

  • O1) We look at the board.
  • O2) We know that the center space is the strongest space.
  • D) We pick our space.
  • A) We draw our “O”.
  • Feedback See what happens.

As you might be able to tell I really like Boyd’s model.  Putting the assessment at the beginning makes the action a more active event while putting the assessment at the end makes it a reactive event.


Boyd’s model is highly flexible in ways that Shewart and mine were not.  Shewart’s model is focused on large actions and projects and mine was just an understanding from a myriad of places. Boyd’s model could be used for everything, from a flip of a card in a real time game, or even the over arching strategy of a 3 year game of Campaign for North Africa, which  in turn has thousands of these loops inside.

So there you have it 3 models of an action from 3 different places.

Special thanks to perrygf, byronczimmer, and Antistone on Board Game Geek.

This article would have been only about my own model without their help.
What are your thoughts on the parts of an action?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.