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Tools for Design: Is Your Game Usable?

This is a re-run of my old blog article on a blog I’ve since abandoned. It is still useful and also pertaining to game-based learning design so I re-publish it here.

Interaction Design is different for games than for other types of software. In regular software it is the ease of use, the path with minimum hurdles on the way to the end, that is the goal for interaction designers. In games, the goal is not necessarily to get to the end result in as short time as possible, but keep the player’s interaction with the game (and other players) as enjoyable as possible throughout the whole experience. This requires a different approach and therefore the traditional guidelines for software usability apply only marginally.

As a result there have been many attempts to list, categorize and capture the rules for game usability. One such effort [was] Interaction Design Patterns, a project of Eelke Folmer, assistant Professor at the Univ. of Nevada and a game and software engineering scholar. Here’s Eelke’s article on Gamasutra. I had the opportunity to meet Eelke at the Player-Centred Game Design workshop of CHI’2006 Conference in Montreal, where he presented the Patterns.

In short, the interaction design patterns describe features that will help the player play the game the way he or she wants without getting the player too frustrated because of the not wanted functionality in the game. I’ll quote from the Interaction Design Patterns website:

What separates games from other forms of entertainment is that they provide interaction, however providing it in the wrong way e.g. different from how the user would expect it or how the user requires it means that people get frustrated playing your game or worse will not be able not able to play your game at all!

The patterns differ from general guidelines by giving the designer short and unambiguous descriptions on when, how and why the solution in question can be applied. At first the patterns tackled questions strictly related to gameplay, such as introducing an Arcade (or Play Now as in many sports games) mode for players that do not want to go through a multitude of menus to get playing the game. Nowadays the patterns include also those that address special needs for different gamer demographics such as the need of closed captioning for those with hearing disability.

As with many design pattern collections, these are mainly harvested by exploring games in the market, so the list does not in itself have any major innovative breakthroughs compared to the state-of-the-art. Instead it is very useful as a check list for any game in design to not leave in any game usability flaws or hindrances that could frustrate the player or make the game unplayable.

As such projects always are, the list not complete and there are more endeavors of this sort in progress.

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