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We’re working on a pretty cool project at CIT now – developing models, practices and standards for using virtual worlds in the classroom, with a particular focus on the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.

We are using Croquet, an open source platform which has been created with education in mind and hope to make effective use of the possibilities that game environments have to offer. We’ll be making a concerted push away from building 3D classrooms, which is a fine first step. I’m quite interested in drawing on the work of Fuchs and Eckermann, creators of Expositur (which I’ve mentioned here before) to make the most of the space that we will be developing.

This is the general Croquet promotional video which shows how awesome this can potentially be.

If you’re interested in finding out more or contributing, let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

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Creating the First Person Learner: Educational Applications of the First Person Shooter game genre.


Many students’ initial experiences of Vocational Education and Training (VET) involve spending large amounts of time methodically developing foundation skills and knowledge in their chosen discipline. They are often taught a specific skill, practise it for a period of time and when they have adequately demonstrated it, they are given the opportunity to develop more advanced skills.

This has echoes in the gameplay of First Person Shooter (FPS) games, which is generally highly structured, giving the player limited options in terms of the paths they can take and the decisions that they can make. It also involves developing skills in a scaffolded way.

This study investigates a potential use of First Person Shooter style games as a learning tools for students in the VET sector. It evaluates the elements of FPS game in terms of appropriate pedagogical strategies that might be applied to them and draws from a wide body of research into the use of games in learning.

Based on this evaluation, I have developed a game design statement for Mandarin Madness, an engaging and pedagogically sound FPS style game which can be used to support the teaching of characters to Mandarin language learners.


Computer games have been used widely in education since the rise of the personal computer in the 1980s with popular titles such as The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. Games can immerse learners in challenging and enjoyable activities in authentic environments, offer positive feedback and enchance the learning experience. (Paras, 2003)

As the medium has evolved and expanded, so too has the range of uses that have been found for games, with a particular emphasis in recent years on Virtual World environments such as Second Life. (Kay, 2007) Interestingly however, the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre, one of the most popular types of games among game players (Nelson, 2008), has been relatively ignored in terms of its educational potential.

FPS games are played in the first-person perspective, which means that rather than controlling a visible avatar in the game world, the player feels more like they are acting in this space. This enhanced sense of immersion in the game experience gives players a stronger emotional connection to their actions in the game (McMahan, 2003) and therefore can offer a richer and more authentic learning experience. (O’Regan, 2003)

This study focusses on the possible uses of FPS games in a VET context because the parallels between the scaffolded nature of knowledge/skill practice in FPS games and in VET suggest that this kind of game could be beneficial to these learners.


The first step taken in this study was to investigate existing research on games and their use in education, with a particular focus on the FPS genre, informed by a set of questions developed after an initial scan of research in the field. This information was used to produce a detailed examination of the FPS game genre including the elements of an FPS game and potential educational applications. The questions used were:

  • What is the anatomy of an FPS game?

  • How do FPS games differ from third person perspective and virtual world games and what advantages do they offer?

  • How can FPS games be educational?

  • What kind of educational approaches lend themselves to this type of games based learning?

  • What are the factors that might determine the most appropriate target audience for an FPS based learning game?

  • What impact might game violence or destruction of virtual objects have on the learning experience?

  • In what circumstances might game violence or destruction of objects be appropriate in a learning activity?

  • Do single player and multiplayer games support different educational approaches?

  • To what extent does the level of realistic representation of the learners’ environment affect their engagement with the game?

  • What makes a game enjoyable and what makes a player want to play a game repeatedly?

Following this, I discussed potential VET usage of games in education with teachers at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), the leading VET provider in the A.C.T. This was primarily to identify a suitable subject content area which an emphasis scaffolded development of knowledge and skills.

After speaking to teachers and education managers in the languages, automotive, horticulture, design and health sciences areas of CIT, I decided to try to design a game for language learners.

Learners of Mandarin at CIT are required to memorise five characters a week for a total of fifty for the semester which is currently done via an extensive drill and practice regime. This simple learning strategy seemed well suited to the Behaviourist oriented directed type of learning that I felt the FPS genre epitomised. I decided to give the game a working title of Mandarin Madness, partly because it’s self evident and also in tribute to the game Marble Madness.

My initial research into the use of FPS game environments also suggested it would be possible to add meaning to the experience by making use of cognitive learning strategies in the design of the learning space and activities. (Fuchs & Eckermann, 2001).

These discussions informed the next step of the process, which was the production of a game design statement. I applied the ADDIE (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evalutate) educational design process to my development of this statement in the interest of emphasising a “learner-centred approach” (O’Connell, 2008).


Jarvinen (2007) identifies nine elements that all games must have at least seven of to be considered games.

  • Players – those who play

  • Game mechanics – actions players take to attain goals in the game

  • Components – resources for play

  • Environment – the space for play

  • Ruleset – the goals and constraints of play

  • Information – what the player needs to know

  • Theme – the subject matter of the game

  • Interface – a tool for accessing game elements

  • Context – when, where, why, how and by whom the game is played.

These elements can be found in any computer game and provide a structure for my analysis of the FPS games and their educational aspects.

McGrath and Hill (2004) provide a decent definition of FPS games in their paper about developing an emergency response simulator using the Unreal Tournament game engine.

First person shooter games are organized
around “levels”, with the idea that a player
will complete the objectives of one level,
and then move on to another level with a
new environment and challenges. In each
level, players move through the
environment “picking up” weapons, health,
and ammunition. Multiple players can
move through levels, interacting with the
environment, objects, other players, and
non-player characters (NPCs).”

As mentioned already, the key difference between an FPS game and Virtual Worlds lies in the fact that the FPS player experiences the game with a first-person perspective of the actions of their character/avatar. The use of third-person perspective in Virtual World game environments can be seen to enhance the range of actions that the player’s avatar can perform in the game but it can equally be argued that this reduces the player’s sense of immersion in the game by removing them from the actions by a degree and this lessens their emotional connection to the experiences. (McMahan, 2003)

From a technical standpoint, one of the reasons that Virtual Worlds may be more widely used in education is the ease with which user-designed spaces and simulations can be constructed in them, which is a large part of their purpose. (Kay, 2007). The FPS genre is much more restrictive, with a singular focus on shooting games. Repurposing the game development software for other purposes can be challenging. (McGrath & Hill, 2004)

While both types of game are set in 3D worlds in which the player can interact with objects and other characters, Virtual Worlds tend to be designed more for multiplayer use with an attendant focus on social interaction, simulation and roleplay. (Kafai, Fields & Cook, 2007) FPS games take relatively different forms depending on whether the game is designed for single-player or multiplayer gameplay. This has a significant impact on the pedagogical approaches needed when considering FPS games for educational application and is addressed in more depth in the Player segment of the FPS game analysis below.

The Anatomy of a First Person Shooter game.


Jarvinen (2007) describes players as “Those who play, in various formations and with various motivations, by performing game mechanics in order to attain goals.”(p.135)

It’s interesting that he uses the plural rather than the singlular form in this instance as there are significant differences between FPS games designed for one player (single-player) and those designed for groups of players (multiplayer).

A single-player FPS game sets the player against a series of computer controlled opponents while completing a series of increasingly difficult tasks. These tasks guide the player from one location to another in the game and are invariably linked to a narrative. (Guttler and Johansson, 2003). This takes a fairly linear and scaffolded form, with the player practicing a skill (generally using a certain weapon) or devising strategies and reaching a point where this skill or strategy is tested. If they pass this test, they are given a better weapon (or other skill) and the cycle starts over.

Some FPS games (e.g Army of Two, Halo) offer a limited multiplayer form of this, having two players simultaneously collaboratively work through the story against the computer controlled opponents to the same ends. The players still develop their essential gameplaying skills in the same way but playing collaboratively has been shown to be highly effective in immersing players in games. (Campanella Bracken, Lange and Denny, 2005).

Multiplayer FPS games on the other hand generally involve a minimum of four players and can expand to hundreds of players in Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooters (MMOFPS). These games aren’t driven by narrative and either take the form of free-for-all deathmatches or team games where both sides attempt to achieve a particular goal such as capturing a flag from the opponents base. (e.g Team Fortress 2)

Steinkuehler (2004) conducted extensive ethnographic studies in multiplayer gaming environments and found that players learn how to play the game and develop their skills and strategies in collaboration with other more experienced players. This form of learning is more in line with Vygotsky’s Social Development theory.

For Mandarin Madness, I felt that players could work either collaboratively or competitively to collect objects with the correct characters on them in a large space when they were told the character (in either English or Mandarin). It would also be worthwhile providing a single-player version enabling the player to practice in their own time.

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are the actions taken by a player to achieve the goals of the game. These include interacting with objects (e.g crates, opponents, doors) in the game environment (or the environment itself) and changing them in some way. (Jarvinen, 2007)

This ability to act and make creative decisions within the game is at the heart of a game’s interactivity and its appeal. (Gee, 2004) Without actions, a game is just a movie.

Educationally, this has strong links to theories of Embodied Cognition and Situated Cognition, which according to Rambusch, Jakobsson & Pargman (2007) holds that “sensori-motor activity is inextricably intertwined with higher cognitive processes such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making” (p.158)

This is supported by research conducted by Kearney (2005) which measured improvements in cognitive activity – in this case multitasking – in two groups of study participants. Only the group that played the teamplay based FPS multiplayer game Counterstrike for two hours “showed a statistically significant improvement in their multitasking abilities”. (p.1)

This suggests that whatever is happening in Mandarin Madness, it is important that the players are able to be active and interact in some way. The main actions available in FPS games are moving (be that walking, running or jumping), shooting or hitting targets, opening doors and picking up game objects and moving them elsewhere. This suggests a shooting gallery level in which the player has to shoot only the nominated character as it appears on screen, scoring points for each hit and losing points for incorrect hits.


Game components include all of the objects in the game environment that a player can interact with including furniture, other characters and in-game videos (i.e. displayed on a wall in the game rather than as a cut-scene).

By using components which accurately reflect the reality of a learning activity or context that we are trying to portray, we can set the stage for the learner/player to carry out what feels like more authentic actions.

Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989) observe that “the activity in which knowledge is developed and deployed, it is now argued, is not separable from nor ancillary to learning and cognition”(p.32). This is a core facet of Situated Learning.

Another way in which Situated Learning principles can be applied in a game environment is via Legitimate Peripheral Participation. (Galarneau, 2005) This would involve the player witnessing an in-game video or 3D animation of an “expert” performing a task. The learner may even be able to repeat this action in the game however this would be dependent on the capabilities of the game engine.

For a learner trying to memorise Mandarin characters in Mandarin Madness, the characters could appear as three dimensional objects which they can navigate freely around and manipulate. Ideally, they would be able to stack parts of the object to create the entire character.

These objects may be accompanied by other objects which illustrate the meaning of the character. (Fuchs & Eckermann, 2001) (E.g the character for chair could be located on a chair, by a chair or in a group surrounding a table as chairs might ordinarily be found.)

Game Environment

The game environment, the (virtual) physical space in which the player experiences the game is another element which can be used to shape and enhance learning.

As with the use of authentic game objects, it would be relatively easy to design an area which reflects the reality of the learning situation and supports the use of authentic learning experiences in line with the principles of Situated Learning,.

The game environment can also be used to enhance the learning materials and experiences within a slightly more symbolic manner. This is a Cogntivist technique explored in some depth by Fuchs and Eckermann (2001) in their Expositur – A Virtual Knowledge Space project and has its roots in ancient Greek mnemotechniques. They developed a virtual space which “housed” exhibits from ten different museums around Vienna and added meaning to them by changing their context. This meant that

the user of the virtual museum has to jump into a water zone in order to hear about the extinction of an ancient fish once populating the Danube River. The user has to operate triggers and barriers to learn about the dangers of machinery provided by the Technical Museum. Or he/she has to walk down a spiral staircase to reach the hall of Sigmund Freud’s subconsciousness

In addition to the manipulation of context, Fuchs and Eckermann (2001) considered “the freedom of the user to go his or her own way in the virtual environment as an important feature that allows for individually shaped relational networks inside a complex field of knowledge”(p.84), which ties in well with Ertmer and Newby’s description of knowledge acquisition under Cognitivism as “a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner”. (1993, p.58).

The game environment also includes the ambient sounds of the game, which can serve to enhance the player’s sense of immersion in the game environment, add additional meaning to objects and events and enhance the three dimensionality of the space. (Grimshaw and Shott, 2007)

For Mandarin Madness, the use of the space to enhance and reinforce the meaning of the characters would be an obvious choice. The colours, shapes, sizes, light levels and forms of movement in the space could all be tied to the themes or meaning of the characters.

Rule Set

The rule set defines all that is possible in the game as well as goals and obstacles.

Jarvinen (2007) defines it as “ the procedures with which the game system constrains and moderates play, with goal hierarchy as an especially important subset” (p.135)

Practically, the rule set is determined by the boundaries of the game software and the decisions of the game designer. It can include things like how, when and where a player might save their game progress, whether they can fly in a space, what happens if they step in the lava pool and how many times they can be shot before their character dies.

The rule set is interesting educationally because with the introduction of limitations and decision making comes the possibility of failure.

Gee (2004) sees high educational value in failure, stating that “Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cyles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew”.

One of the strengths of games and simulations as a learning environment is that failure becomes much safer – the learner is able to take risks that they couldn’t normally take in a real world environment and they are able to try again and again until they can see why something doesn’t work and consider alternate strategies.

The research conducted by Oliver and Pelletier (2005) in the course of testing a methodology for analysing how learning occurs in computer games revealed that the ability to apply a trial and error approach to problem solving in the FPS game Deux Ex was greatly enhanced by the player knowing that she was able to save the game on demand. This enabled her to overcome an obstacle and save the game, meaning that if she failed the next obstacle, she wouldn’t have to repeat the previous one as well and thus the cost of failure was significantly lessened. This freed her to experiment more with the approaches that she took because the cost of failure was reduced.

The rule set also determines the goals of the game and thus the learners motivations for completing the activities. The rule set can also be used to control the difficulty of the game.

It makes it possible to have alternate levels of challenge, which can enhance replayability and give the learner more control of their learning experience.

Sophisticated gaming engines make use of “adaptive difficulty”, which is able to monitor the player’s progress through the game and make it easier or more challenging for them if they are progressing with ease or finding themselves stuck.

The rule set is probably the most complex element of the game as the goals and activities are the essence of the educational design and require the most consideration. This is the area where the most suitable pedagogical approach to the learning requirement is applied and will vary depending on game style and content.

One design focus identified for Mandarin Madness stems from concerns about other educational software used by the language department at CIT. The issue is that the player should not just be able to random click in the game to complete it. Strategies for countering this include making the game engaging enough that the learners want to play and ensuring there are clear failure states.

Interestingly, research from Ravaja, Saari, Laarni, Kallinen and Salminen (2005) shows that players in some instances actually derive more pleasure from failing in a game than succeeding. This is at least partly attributable to the game feedback that was received upon failure, which involved their monkey (in the game Monkey Bowling 2) being shot off into space in a comical manner.


Information is classed by Jarvinen (2007) as “What the player needs to know and what the game system stores and presents in game states: Points, clues, time limits etc.”(P.135)

With the exception of direct instructions to the player on how to play the game, this includes score and health information persistently displayed on screen in the Heads Up Display (HUD) as well as visual and aural cues triggered by their actions. These cues might include pleasant or unpleasant sounds, flashes of light and colour and seeing the object physically moved. These can all be grouped under the umbrella term of feedback.

In terms of the learning, the feedback in a game is of equal importance to the actions that the player is able to apply to the objects in the game environment. If the player doesn’t receive any feedback when they act, there is no incentive for them to make that action. Feedback then can be seen as a strong Behaviourist element. (Gagne, Briggs & Wagner, 1992) By providing positive feedback when a player does something well, the designer hopes to encourage the player to repeat the action.

Games offer a variety of options for motivating, positive feedback. Rewards might range from the aforementioned pleasing sounds and visuals to accumulating collectible or better objects/powers as well as unlocking new areas of the game environment or progressing the narrative.

The capacity of the game to offer quantified feedback in the form of points scored or time taken to achieve a goal not only offers teachers concrete options for assessing learner progress but can also appeal to the competitive side of learners if a high score table is provided.

All of these elements would be incorporated into Mandarin Madness with a definite focus on quantifiable elements which would include such things as scores, time taken and number of attempts as useful information for teachers about learner progress.


Theme as it applies to computer games refers primarily to the narrative which underpins the events of the game and offers the player a context for their actions. It “functions as a metaphor for the system and the rule set”. (Jarvinen, 2007, p.135)

According to Ryan (1999):

Stories essentially come in three parts:

  1. The thesis, which is the introduction to the setting, the characters and the hero

  2. The antithesis, which is where the conflict and villains are introduced and is what amounts to the majority of the story

  3. Synthesis, where there is some form of resolution, be it triumphant or tragic.

This structure can equally be applied to individual activies in the game, game levels or to the entire game itself.

Research conducted by Pinchbeck (2008) indicates that “there is evidence that story may have a direct influence upon cognitive operations. Specifically… games with highly visible, detailed stories may assist players in recalling and ordering their own experiences”(P.1)

Story provides players with an emotional connection to their actions within the game,(McMahan, 2003) which enhances their immersion and their learning. (O’Regan, 2003).

Given the more Behaviourist drill and practice orientation of Mandarin Madness, which consists largely of a series of basic gameplay oriented activities, narrative may not necessarily be all that useful in a competitive multiplayer environment. It would however provide a more immersive learning experience in a single player and even collaborative multiplayer game and I would be inclined to use some kind of collection quest in this case.


The interface is a tool which enables the player to access the game elements. (Jarvinen, 2007) In the case of computer games, this includes the mouse, keyboard and microphone.

In the broader video game world, it expands to game controllers (e.g. Xbox 360 and the motion sensitive Wii Remote), stylus and touchscreen (Nintendo DS), steering wheel controllers (for driving games), guitar controllers (Guitar Hero, Rockband), dance mats (Dance Dance Revolution) and in game arcades you might find scaled versions of motorcycles, horses or skateboards. The types of authentic activity that the latter of these devices offer has clear links to Situated Learning and Situated and Embodied Cognition and it is not surprising that they have also be found to enhance player immersion (Jonsson, 2005).

The type of controller being used determines the types of interactions that the player can have with the game. For Mandarin Madness, ideally the player would be able to use the mouse and keyboard to move through the game space, interact with objects and type responses to question – such as the English translations of the Mandarin characters.

The ability to use a microphone to practice pronounciation of the characters would also add significant depth to the learning experience.

An important issue in the use of games in learning arises when we consider the complexity of the interface. The controls of an FPS game generally involve using the mouse as the players eyes, the left mouse button to shoot, right mouse button for an alternate action, the space bar for jumping and the W,A,S & D keys to move in the game space.

If this control layout is considered overly complicated by non-gamers, this can present a major barrier to their engagement with of the learning game.

The Independent Game Developers Association (IGDA) considers this in their 2006 Casual Games White Paper. Casual games are simple games such as Solitaire, Tetris and Bejeweled which are favoured by people who don’t normally play other games.

The IGDA position on controls for casual games is that “where possible, should be limited to the left mouse button” (P.45)

This could work with the shooting gallery section of Mandarin Madness but other parts of the game would require the player to move in the space.

This does raise a serious question about using an FPS style game for education – that of who will be playing the game and whether complex controls presents a significant barrier to learning


Jarvinen’s (2007) final element of games involves “where, when and why the gaming encounter takes place” (P.135). To this I would add “and who is playing?”

I would imagine that Mandarin Madness would be played by learners in the language labs at CIT. They would initially be oriented to the game in a class session where they would learn to play both the single player and multiplayer version of the game together.

In the case of non-gamer learners, this could involve several players gathered around one computer providing support to each other, well in keeping with Bandura’s concept of Social Learning. This states that “most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action ”(1977, p.22)

An additional application of this principle could involve the game itself being incorporated into class activity, with learners in small groups (or even as a whole class) watching as one learner at a time plays a level of a game. Given the initial support of fellow students and the teacher, I feel confident that learners at all levels of gaming competence would be able to master the controls of Mandarin Madness.



Video games in general and the FPS genre in particularly have been subject to controversy in recent years in relation to perceptions about the impact of interactive violence on players of the games.

Thompson (2005) has variously described games as “murder simulators” and “mental masturbation” and claimed that the dual shock controller of the Sony PlayStation 2 “gives you a pleasurable buzz back into your hands with each kill. This is operant conditioning, behavior modification right out of B.F Skinner’s laboratory” (2006, p.12)

Research conducted by Endestad and Torgersen (2003) indicates that “it is action games and not first person shooter games, that predict violent behaviour” (p.10).

Eastin and Griffiths (2006) examined possible links between game playing and violence by evaluating gamers perceptions of aggressive/hostile intent in others directly after they had spent time playing either an FPS game (Unreal Tournament), a boxing game (Knockout Kings) or a car racing game (Gran Tourismo). They found that hostile expectations were highest in those who had been playing the boxing game and hypothesised that this was because the act of punching was far more possible and authentic than shooting. They also speculated that it could be because gamers enjoyed the FPS game more and “presence increases game enjoyment. As game enjoyment increases, hostility decreases due to greater desensitization toward game violence”. (p.461)

Regardless of the possible causal links between gameplay and violence, it’s entirely reasonable that violent and particularly gory content could discourage many players. This is not to say however that there may not be solutions to this issue.

I have discovered two FPS games which apply drill and practice principles to educational purposes (touch-typing and learning English) and which have aspects that could be considered violent. Typing of the Dead and English of the Dead are spin-off games from a popular arcade shooter, House of the Dead.

Players used light guns in House of the Dead to kill oncoming attacking zombies and other monsters while attempting to stop an evil businessman from taking over the world. Typing of the Dead cleverly replaced the gun interface with a Qwerty keyboard and the player “shoots” the zombies by quickly typing the words that appear about their heads. English of the Dead works on a similar principle but makes use of the touchscreen and stylus interface of the dual-screen Nintendo DS to have the player write the missing letters of the English words that appear above the monsters and below the Japanese equivalent word.

While the games are violent, the developers have made it more abstract (and thus inauthentic) by making the zombie blood green. They also provide the option to turn blood off entirely so that when the zombies are shot, they simply run away.

These options may not allay the discomfort of all gamers but are worth considering.


In the course of this research I strongly believe that I have been able to develop a pedagogically sound and engaging design concept for an educational FPS style game.

The full design statement for Mandarin Madness can be found in Appendix A.

Mandarin Madness offers learners an enjoyable and stimulating environment in which they are able to interact with a range of virtual objects and have an impact on the game world.

It offers Behaviourist oriented skills practice and positive reinforcement and draws on Cognitivist strategies for making information more memorable by giving it richer meaning through symbolic and metaphoric contexts. Learners are able to share their knowledge and skills in the multiplayer environment and can draw emotional connections from the use of the narrative.

The proof of a game is of course in the playing but on paper, Mandarin Madness works.

Comments 1 Comment »

One of the things that has come from the thought I have put into my project (full details to come shortly) into educational applications of FPS style games has been a real belief that first person perspective gaming is a richer experience than third person. This has raised a few questions for me.

Chief among these questions is that of why there isn’t more variety in terms of first person perspective gameplay? Puzzle games have it in that it is you interacting with the puzzle elements on the screen rather than via the agency of your avatar however this isn’t so far removed from simply doing a real puzzle that is sitting on the table in front you.

I know that whenever I play a first person shooter (and even moreso when I am playing other people rather than the computer A.I) I have a more intense emotional experience than when I play any other game. The feelings of fear, excitement and joy are richer in these games than any games that involve controlling an avatar, regardless of how good those games might be.

If I can have that level of emotional involvement in a shooting game, why shouldn’t I have it in other gaming experiences. Most importantly of all, why shouldn’t I be able to have these richly emotional experiences when I am learning something. The technology is clearly available so what is the problem? We live our lives in a first person perspective and if we benefit from making our learning experiences as authentic as possible, surely learning in first person perspective games is more authentic than any other game type.

Then again, perhaps this is exactly the problem. Playing a third person perspective game can ultimately be seen as a glorified form of playing with toys or dolls. We are able to do more with our avatar in them and we have more power over them, which may provide us with more of an escape from reality.

I recognise that driving games and flight simulations also offer first person perspective gameplay however they don’t allow the player to interact with objects and characters in the game environment on more than a superficial level and as such are a different kettle of fish. (And I rarely play driving games in anything other than 3PP for the aforementioned reasons of better control.

Is first person perspective too intense for us? Why aren’t there non-shooting first person games?


Comments 1 Comment »

This project is doing my head in a little – but in a good way.

The simple premise that I started with – that I want to see how it might be possible to use FPS style games for learning – has twisted and turned all over the place as I have tried to figure out how to accomodate learners who don’t normally play games, how to deal with the issue of violence in games (and what impact this has on learning), what kinds of learning activities might be suited to the FPS genre – initially I was thinking fairly straight forward drill and practice (although what form this might actually take is another matter) and what elements of games actually support learning.

I’ve taken side trips to the world of casual games in search of answers for making games easy and appealing to non-gamers – I think that casual games have a lot to offer but there are still a lot of key differences between them and an FPS style game – most notably in the controls. Casual games seem to work best with just the one controller – preferably the mouse while the FPS game controls may be overly complicated for novice gamers. I still haven’t resolved this issue in my mind yet.

Violence in games isn’t as cut and dried as you might have thought – some studies even go so far as to suggest that it can enhance learning for some gamers. (Not many but some). Action games are most closely linked to violent behaviour in gamers as well.

The application of learning theories to games is an incredibly rich and encouraging field – the more I read, the more it seems that games can do in terms of developing sensori-motor skills (which may be inextricably intertwined with higher cognitive skills like problem solving and decision making), motivation, emotional connection to the material, relevance and much more are all enhanced in a game environment.

Issues of story vs gameplay have been interesting – story appears to be important and separate (but equal) to gameplay elements in making a good game. How this relates to my initial leaning towards basic activities I’m still synthesising at the moment.

I definitely feel that I’m on the right track though and I’m a believer in the teaching power of activities and the rich worlds that games can offer.

The question of drill and practice is one that I’ve instinctively felt is important but I haven’t been able to properly solidify. I’m thinking about language learning here (although there are other scenarios where it could be useful) and the need for repetition.

This is what has drawn me to the world of casual games, the fact that the best of these games have high replayability (or addictive qualities if you prefer) and players are happy to come back to them even when they have finished. It’s not for the story then (most casual games don’t have one) but for the challenge and for the game play elements. The fun, the pretty graphics/sounds/etc, the rewards, the positive feedback and the sense of achievement and progress. I think a high score or fastest game table might also enhance this experience and encourage multiple replays.

This and the accessibility of casual games to non-gamers is why I’ve been floating around this area.

One of the limitations of the FPS that I’m feeling more and more is the general lack of ability to enter text. Typing of the Dead has it but that’s about it. Actually, scratch that – I’ve just done taken a look at this video for English of the Dead – an FPS based language game for the Nintendo DS that ingeniously uses the bottom interface of the DS for learners to write letters on. (Interesting that they don’t just have a keyboard displayed on the bottom screen for learners to use the stylus to “type” the letters with – forcing them to write the characters instead. Clever. (You can try a basic – and non-violent – version of the game here)

Another issue I’ve bumped up against a few times while thinking about this project has been the single-player/multiplayer divide. There are a number of different factors that come to play with these types of games and the multiplayer ones, while highly interesting, just bring too much to the table, so I’ve decided to focus on single-player games for now.
I’m interested in the possibilities of players being able to leave their mark on the game world – for example, someone playing the game on a Tuesday writes a message on a wall for a friend playing the game the next day. (Both separately) – I think this is more of a virtual world kind of thing though.

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From Tony Hetherington

•  A description of what was done, what was found — the
purpose of the study, methodology (design, participants,
setting, analysis), results, conclusion
•  A comparison to other work you have cited
•  An explanation of how this particular work informs or
supports the topic.•  A concise summary of the central theme and scope of
the article
•  A comment on the intended audience

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The last post is getting a little long so time for another.

Larsen, T. (1999) Designing games for novice gamers Gamasutra (3338) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

On the other hand, several games let players start immediately without having to know lots of stuff about how to control the game. Many adventure games, in particular Myst, are easy to get started with and give immediate enjoyment. Novice players also have an easy time getting into 3D shooters such as Doom. Thus, it’s not surprising to see that these games reach a wider audience than other games with a higher entrance barrier.

So when you design games for novice gamers, a low entrance barrier is critical. The player should be able to start playing the game almost immediately and understand at once what is happening.

Visible Game Mechanics

Most people have played one board game or another, such as Monopoly, Ludo, and so on. In these games, the game mechanic is totally visible. In Monopoly, players roll the dice and move that number of squares. That square has an effect on the player that is explicitly written on the square itself or on a corresponding card. Novice gamers are used to visible game mechanics.

Themes and settings that seem quite acceptable to experienced gamers may seem weird or disgusting to people who aren’t accustomed to computer games. For example, experienced gamers are quite accustomed to excessive graphic violence and may think that more blood and gore make a game more entertaining. However, many others tout this excessive depiction of violence as a reason not to buy computer games.

Intellectual Manageability

An experienced gamer is often accustomed to managing many tasks at once. At one extreme are the strategy gamers who can handle up to 20 to 30 structures and 100 to 150 individual units at once with only a mild sense of panic. But even these people prefer to manage the units in groups because, intellectually, it’s easier to manage fewer objects — fewer objects means higher intellectual manageability.

Many independent studies in various professional fields conclude that seven is the highest number of objects that a person can comfortably keep in mind at once. This maxim applies to computer games as well. Maintaining an overview of what’s going on is easier if you have a maximum of (more or less) seven things on which to concentrate. If you’re making a game for novice gamers, you should pay attention to the game’s intellectual manageability.

Alternatives can also be arranged in hierarchies to adhere to the seven-object rule. At any one time, a player in a role-playing game may choose to move, rest, fight, or administrate his or her character. If the player chooses to fight, he or she can attack, guard, shoot, or use an item. At any level in the hierarchy, the player is never faced with more than seven alternatives from which to choose.

Ryan, T. (1999) Beginning Level Design, Part 1 Gamasutra (3329) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

Level design is the data entry and layout portion of the game development cycle. A level is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a mission, stage, map or other venue of player interaction. As a level designer, you are chiefly responsible for the gameplay.

Challenge comes from difficulty. The trick to good level design is to present challenges that are difficult enough to merit the players’ attention and make their heart or mind race, but not so difficult as to always leave them failing and disappointed. It’s a delicate balance based on what is perceived as the median player skill, and it is a variable constantly adjusted up until the game ships.

People don’t like playing the same level twice. Not only does it ruin the entertainment value, it also fails to spark the imagination. It’s therefore incredibly important that levels introduce some variation in the plot, challenge, setting, and characters (i.e. the enemies).

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis

Stories essentially come in three parts:

  1. The thesis, which is the introduction to the setting, the characters and the hero
  2. The antithesis, which is where the conflict and villains are introduced and is what amounts to the majority of the story
  3. Synthesis, where there is some form of resolution, be it triumphant or tragic.

Understanding and Developing the Thesis in Level Design

Each level in itself is its own story. As level designers, you set up the thesis by preparing the initial situation. You position the player and perhaps indicate his initial arsenal or force or set of spells or pieces. You render the setting with your map or your puzzle board. The setting and the situation can change over the course of the level as portions of the level are revealed to the player or new characters or other elements are introduced such as power-ups or new player or enemy forces. As games are interactive, you have to be very conscious about every possible situation a player can be in at any given time or place over the course of the playing the level.

Introducing and Refining the Antithesis in Your Level

The antithesis is where the players interact with your level. By positioning enemy forces and scripting their behavior, or by setting the timing and speed of the bugs they have to zap or the puzzle pieces they have to place, you are creating conflict. This should be where the core gameplay of your level is.

Synthesis – Making Your Levels End in a Satisfying Tone

Synthesis is the result of an encounter or the entire level. It’s a moment of reflection for players to evaluate the encounter or level and what they got out of it. Whether players fail or succeed, they should be able to recognize why and how they might do better next time. This keeps them interested in trying again or just replaying for a better score or reward.

Victory or failure should be obvious. Players should understand why they lost. Victories should come as the direct result of the final acts of the player, not as the result of something the player does midway through the level (the latter tends to make players bored). Ending the mission on a big, satisfying note leaves a player feeling good.

Everything the player sees or does must further the story. All of the players’ accomplishments should move them toward the completion of the story or pull them further into the conflict with the villain.

Most gamers have a short attention span, especially those who play console games. They don’t have as much patience with minor details and game subtleties. If you present them with too much detail, or if your gameplay hinges on the player understanding the significance of minor details (like a single dialogue message), then you will lose them… Spending a lot of time working on non-interactive details can be a waste of time and resources, although it’s important to put some effort into it because the player will pay some attention to it.

Ryan, T. (1999) Beginning Level Design, Part 2: Rules to Design by and Parting Advice Gamasutra (3332) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

20 Rules to Design By

1) Maintain the vision.

The “vision” is the core idea of the game design.

2) Learn the design palette.

One of the first things you need to establish before you begin your machinations is the design palette. The design palette includes all of the art and game play elements at your disposal.

One grave mistake that all designers make at some point is to create mazes. Why is that a mistake? Mazes are one of the first forms of puzzles introduced in computer games. It’s old now. Because all it takes to make a maze is placing walls or other terrain that blocks movement, it’s the easiest game play to create. It is sort of a last resort when you are fresh out of game play elements and ideas. When you get to this point, stop. Try to improve your design palette by coming up with new ways to use existing elements or by pushing the game designer to create more.

4) A level will only ever be as good as you imagine it.

A great sculptor doesn’t begin chiseling a block of stone until he envisions in his mind what the completed sculpture will look like. The same is true with level design: there’s no point in beginning to design your map if you can’t truly see what you’re working towards. You might have a vague idea about what you are trying to make, but to start designing away without a clear vision can lead to a lot of wasted time and effort.

This isn’t to say that you should leave some time to experiment, but the core idea of the game play for your level should stand on its own. It’s also best to choose a core idea that leaves a lot of room for a variety of game play. When you implement the level, establish the core idea with broad strokes, and just make it work. With that done, decide if the idea has merit and whether you want to go further with the level. If so, fill in the fine details and experiment with subtle game play details. Often it’s the subtler elements and details that make the difference between a good level and a great one.

5) If there’s no difference, what’s the point?

Having multiple routes to the same goal is a good way of giving players choices and a sense of freedom while still ensuring they end up at the same point. Yet, if each choice exposes the players to the same types of enemies, the same rewards, and the same risks and costs, then players will only get frustrated and bored when they discover that there is essentially no difference.

6) Cater to different playing styles and abilities.

When presenting options, challenges or puzzles to players, try to offer multiple solutions that cater to different player styles and abilities. Some players play conservatively, while others like to play it risky.

7) Reward player imagination and efforts.

Players like to experiment and explore. The more solutions, secrets, alternate paths, and so on, that you provide in your level, the more satisfied players will be. It’s a great feeling when, as a player, you come up with a not-so-obvious solution that succeeds. Remember that players almost always go off the main route hoping to find shortcuts, hidden caches of goodies, or other unexpected items. When designing a level, try to think about what players may want to try, and give that to them. When they say, “What if…?” your level should respond with, “Yes, you can.”

8) Pay attention to level pacing.

Pacing is the introduction of conflict and tension, plus what some like to call the “adrenaline rush.” This follows closely the Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model that we know from stories and films. The tension builds as the player (the thesis) interacts with the antithesis, and it crescendos right before the synthesis, where the reader, watcher or player breathes a sigh of relief.

Because games are interactive, forcing a certain pace into the level can be difficult. What if the players don’t do what you want them to do? What if they take too much time? What if it’s too easy and unexciting when it’s played slow or too intense if played too fast? There are some things you can do to remedy this without taking all the interactivity out of it.

Time limits add tension that’s immediately perceptible by the player. A time limit can force a player to move more rapidly, or adopt tactics that you want him to use, such as splitting forces to achieve multiple objectives. You can put in an artificial time limit – like a mission clock, a puzzle-solver clock, or a turn time limit. You can institute a realistic time limit into a level, like the time it takes a certain enemy or ally unit to move to its exit point, or the time before enemy reinforcements arrive to overwhelm the player.

Controlling the movement speed or distance a player may traverse in a turn drastically affects game play pacing. While you cannot just arbitrarily change this in your level unless you are doing a puzzle game like Tetris, there are other ways you can play with speed. Often terrain affects movement speed, such as swampy ground that slows you down, a highway that permits you to speed up, or an obstructed and twisty route that slows your progress. Giving units different movement speeds and/or movement restrictions can slow or speed up the players, if they have to travel with that unit.

9) Reveal assets carefully.

Keeping the player interested in the game requires careful asset revelation. Assets are the game’s eye candy, such as terrain objects, enemy and friendly units, upgrades, puzzles, and so on. All but the simplest games try to reveal these assets gradually to players, so as not to overload them on the first level, and to keep them interested in going on to the next level.\

10) Challenge the player.

Your job as level designer is to challenge the player. A level isn’t truly satisfying unless victory is at times uncertain. So you have to present challenges to players that really test their mettle and make them uncertain of their victory. When doing so, you have to cater to different player abilities (see rule #6) and to increasingly skilled and equipped players. Where your level is positioned in the game timeline or “level progression” should indicate how difficult it needs to be. In the first few levels, players learn how to play the game, so these levels should be a little forgiving. Levels at the end should be the most difficult to coincide with the increased skill and player resources.

12) If the player didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Don’t assume all players will read dialogue or mission descriptions, and don’t rely on their observation skills, powers of precognition, or capacity for logical deduction to understand what is going on in the level and what they should do. Players must see what is happening to understand it.

13) See through the player’s eyes.

Players usually watch most closely those objects that appear on a level’s “event horizon.” The event horizon is where new terrain is revealed and where enemies are engaging the player. Changes in the event horizon often trigger a reaction from players or influence their decisions, and changes elsewhere may not get noticed immediately.

For instance, if an enemy unit suddenly appeared in the middle of previously revealed terrain, it may not attract the player’s attention, at least until a blip appeared on the radar or the new unit attacked one of the player’s buildings. However, if the enemy unit appeared where new terrain was being revealed, it’s likely that it would be noticed right away. Likewise, a building isn’t really looked at except when it’s initially revealed.

While some players spend time examining previously revealed terrain, most people do not, and it becomes even less likely when the game takes place within a 3D environment. Players usually only observe what is in the “here and now,” and you should put yourself in their position to ensure that you don’t put imperceptible events in your level.

18) Be the adversary.

To a certain extent you have to be sadistic to the players. You should enjoy being the adversary, and think from the AI’s perspective. This will help you make much more realistic opponents that a player can understand. Players naturally put a human face on the AI, and so they expect the AI to behave like a human. When you script the AI to behave in a human fashion, it helps players successfully strategize and often draws them deeper into the game. It also evokes a little fear in players, as they don’t expect a game AI to recognize their weaknesses. As the adversary, you need to provoke fear in players and prey on their weaknesses. It’s what makes the game more challenging, fun and fulfilling.

Pinchbeck, D. (2008) Story and Recall in First-Person Shooters [Electronic Version] International Journal of Computer Games Technology Volume 2008 pp.1-7

However, what has been underrecognised is the dynamic, epistemological, and psychological impact of story and story elements
upon player behaviour. It is argued here that there is evidence that story may have a direct influence upon cognitive operations.
Specifically, evidence is presented that it appears to demonstrate that games with highly visible, detailed stories may assist players
in recalling and ordering their experiences. If story does, indeed, have a more direct influence, then it is clearly a more powerful
and immediate tool in game design than either simply reward system or golden thread.

A simple study was carried out, whereby twenty-six
participants played either Bethsheda’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark
Corners of the Earth (2006), or id’s Doom3: Resurrection
of Evil (2005) for 40 minutes in more-or-less natural
playing conditions and then undertook a semistructured
interview. In this interview, subjects were asked to discuss
four factors in their experiences: the world they explored,
the characters they met, the avatar they controlled, and
the sequence of events—literally “what happened when
you played the game?”

5.1 Character
All subjects from both groups had no problem when
asked to provide a motive for one of the characters they
had identified. In the CTH group, these were usually fairly
accurate, and in many cases picked up on subtle nonludically
significant information. Player’s asked about the motive for
the marines being on Mars in RES which were far less
sure and in some cases highly creative in their responses.
9/13 players were asked and the results varied from the
semiaccurate “there was an incident,” “they used to go there
and lost the colony” to the false “they have discovered this
archeological site,” “conducting some research,” and fanciful
“human curiosity.” Only one subject noted the cover story
given in the opening sequence

5.2. Environment
Subjects were asked to talk about the environments they
visited and then prompted with two further questions:
any particularly memorable features or details, and what
sounds were present? CTH splits into two levels: the opening
sequence in a dilapidated cult mansion and its underground
tunnels and Innsmouth itself. RES is all set in an archeo-
logical dig site, with alien architecture slowly transforming
into the human base sited above it. These were variously
described as caverns, mines, high-tech industrial, and Aztec.
The presence of technology was noted, often (4/13) in
relation to the number of boxes and crates lying around.
What was most striking about RES subjects descriptions
of the environment was how directly indexed to gameplay
mechanisms many of them were. 6 of the 13 subjects talked
explicitly about generic game devices rather than the
presented environment.

The darkness of the levels was the consistent feature
noted, with all subjects referencing it. Beyond that, features
were evenly distributed between pits, doors, and interactive
objects (a power cell transplant sequence was noted by
4 subjects). It was quickly recognised by 5 subjects that
each hostile agent was preceded by a signature sound; aside
from this, ambient noise was noted. However, no subject
reported the radio transmissions that sporadically interrupt
the action, nor the direct instructions from McNeil.

5.3. Avatar
One thing both study groups shared was a very distinct
conceptual distance between player and avatar. Only two
subjects in the entire study referred to the action in the
first person. Further, the majority used the second when
discussing plot, character, and environment: “you go into the
basement,” “you are this marine.”
However, it is important to note that over identification
with the avatar can be problematic, as it exposes the
limitations of the game system [23].Thefactthatmostof
the subjects in the study felt that they were controlling Jack
or the marine, or in some cases “aiding” them, acting as a
team suggests that the avatars were functioning effectively.
Subjects were first asked about their relationships to the
avatar, and then whether they thought he had a definable
character. If the answer was yes, they were prompted to try
and encapsulate this personality in few words. Finally, they
were asked about their motives and whether they considered
this to be the same as their avatars.
All but one of the CTH subjects easily identified with
Jack, citing the amount of background material as the
major reason they were able to do so (4/13 also stated that
the gameplay device of hearing his heartbeat increase in
times of stress helped draw them in).

RES subjects found empathy easy too but struggled more
with the notion of character. Although 8/13 felt that the
marine had a character, when asked to summarise his per-
sonality, there were noticeable pauses; then 5/13 constructed
a personality based around their play styles—either “cool,
level headed, not freaked out by what is happening” or “a
kick-ass marine.” The remaining four described the avatar as
bland, or a shell, though two of these suggested that as the
story progressed, theymay understandmore about him. One
tied his motive to try to find his squad, which is completely
missing from the actual game; another candidly pointed out
that the initiation of the action comes fromthe avatar picking
up the artifact and that he was playing the “idiot who caused
it all.” Noticeably, the RES players were more likely (5/13)
to differentiate their motive from the avatars: whilst he was
variously “trying to get to the surface,” “escaping,” “staying
alive,” “returning the artifact for study,” they remained only
superficially involved, wanting to explore the game, or just
responding to wave after wave of hostile avatar. Several (3/13)
wanted additional characterisation to flesh out the marine’s

5.4 Plot

The need for closure was highly evident in both subject
groups; most of whom assumed a closed narrative was
unfolding, even if they did not fully grasp it. CTH subjects
generally coped well with a highly complex narrative, includ-
ing an unconventional temporal sequence. One subject failed
to identify Jack in the opening sequence; another suggested
that the suicide was successful and the Innsmouth level was
not real. All of the CTH subjects described the plot fully or
near fully and did so using clear storytelling structures: there
was clear cause and effect and understanding of temporal
sequencing. More to the point, every subject thought a story
was operating behind the action—two even suggested that
it was more important than the action (one describing the
experience as more like watching a film than playing a game)
and were happy to ascribe the gaps in the information
they were given to a plot arc they had yet to uncover
although most assumed they would uncover it. Asked if
they believed that other characters within the game knew
more than they did, all but one answered yes.

Conspiracy, and its counterpart, amnesia, is a
powerful theme in FPS games, occurring in nearly every title,
and it is evident why this should be. Not only does it allow
narrative development to be offered as a reward scheme, but
it also achieves two more direct gameplay functions. Firstly,
it lowers the player/avatar’s status, training themto be reliant
upon the system for information, which is why it is so often
attached to high-status NPCs. Secondly, it allows the system
to gain control over information shortfalls: it is simply not
necessary to offer a complete package of information if the
closure is operating successfully—the player will contribute
at least the assumption that all will become clear and, as such,
shortfalls and contradictions can be masked.
Tellingly, even though RES subjects struggled to create a
full narrative of their experiences, quickly degenerating into
brief summaries “monsters come and you shoot them,” “you
just keep going until to find the boss,” and several 3/13 admit-
ted complete ignore as to what was going on; most (7/13)
believed there to be a story happening. This would seem to
confirm that Kermode’s question remains valid in the sphere
of game research. Only two drew attention to the PDAs
lying around the environment which provided background

A game with a high emphasis on story such as Cthulhu
seems to enable players to recall a substantial quantity of
the information it presents, even when this is presented in
a nonstandard and incomplete fashion. Although players
often fail to remember names, they are adept at either
recalling or inferring motive.

Even though Cthulhu contains
a much higher number of characters than Resurrection of
Evil, subjects were able to remember much more about
them, suggesting that players of the latter were simply not
paying any attention to them. This may sound banal, but it
is evidence that the system is training the player to attach
significance. Further, the fact that players of Resurrection
found it difficult to recall their actions in detail suggests that
a strong plot may not only act as a reward scheme but aid in
orientation and postexperience affect

Peters, J. (2007) World of Borecraft: Never play a videogame that’s trying to teach you something Slate 2169019 Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

When does a game stop being a game and turn into an assignment? Can a game still be called a game if it isn’t any fun?

Newsgames are an interesting idea, but this one is less informative than a simple article and less fun than doing the Jumble. Food Import Folly didn’t make me think long and hard about FDA policy—I just ended up left-clicking furiously in a half-assed attempt to “win.”

In taking the fun out of video games, companies like Persuasive make them less alluring to people who love games and more alluring to people who don’t. Your boss, for example. Many of Persuasive’s projects were commissioned by corporations as nontraditional job-training tools.

The graphics and game play in modern edutainment software have certainly improved since Mavis Beacon’s heyday. But the fundamental conceptual problem still remains: Animating mindless, boring repetition doesn’t make the repetition any less mindless or boring.

I think game designer and theorist Raph Koster has it right. “[J]ust strapping an incentive structure on rote practice doesn’t work very well, compared to … building a long-term goal structure, and then presenting challenges on the way,”

The basic issue here is that it’s easier to make a fun game educational than it is to inject fun into an educational game. In his 2005 book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson argues that games like The Sims and Grand Theft Auto make us smarter by training the mind in adaptive behavior and problem-solving. Most overtly educational software, though, ignores the complexities that make games riveting and enriching. The serious-gaming types think they can create educational software from whole cloth. In reality, they have a lot to learn from Grand Theft Auto.

Guttler, C. and Johansson, T. (2003) Spatial principles of level-design in multi-player first-person shooters Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on network and system support for games (pp. 158 – 170) New York, NY: ACM

In this manner, the paper
addresses the following questions: What
characterizes good level design in first-
person shooters? Which criteria are
necessary in the level-design process in
order to obtain quality? The thesis of the
paper is that a consistent examination of a
game’s gameplay, its agents, and spatial
components is necessary for the
development of a design method that
would lead to ultimate level design.

Setting off from a theoretical
discussion of the terms gameplay and
emergence, the paper starts by establishing
the basic characteristics of
multiplayer shooters. The concept of
emergence leads to a distinction of the
unique features of multi-play and
teamplay, and concepts of gameplay helps
us map out the basic spatial properties of
the game environment and its staging of
player strategies and tactical choice. The
key concept in the principles of spatiality
in level design advanced here is the so-
called collision point; the location that
marks the clash of players and hence the
set of relevant tactical choices to be made
by the teams.

Secondly—and that is this text’s
approach – is Multi-player FPS a
fundamental different type of game than
single-player games. Where single-player
shooters are structured as often a
predefined number of serial challenges
(“monsters”) to which the player is
confronted through an organized spatial
route (through corridors, hallways, shafts
etc.) is the multi-player game much more
unpredictable. The task here is not to
accomplish a course of events, but a
mission and attacking enemies that aren’t
preprogrammed challenges but actual
opponents with own goals and tactical
competence equal to one self. In that
sense, the goal is no longer an optimal
completion of the game (according to
time, killed “monsters” etc.) but simply to
win the game, which in this case means
defeating all the opponents in the played
game. Further, the task in for example
Counter-Strike is to fulfill the mission as a
team, partly because the individual player
is to join a team when the game starts and
partly because assistance from team
members is absolutely necessary to win
the game. This team-orientated structure
has naturally contributed to the
establishment of unique player
environments outside the game.

The fact that the player is not dragged
from one event to the other but is offered a
game environment that supports teamplay
and different play styles, states that the
principles for level-design (the creation of
playable virtual game environments) are
quite different from the single-player

The term gameplay is often used to judge
and describe a computer game’s qualities.
The meaning of this term is discussed
since it first appeared, but it seems that a
agreement is reached that the term judges
the game’s ability to offer the player
qualified choices and options, how these
are accessible to the player and in what
degree they are relevant to the player’s in-
game situation.

In single-player games in the FPS
genre, this is noticeable in terms of what
possibilities the player is given, to
confront and defeat the ongoing
challenges. Or whether the player is given
possibilities to think and act in a creative
way and in that sense solve the problems
in better ways, or to what extent the game
is reduced to monotonous conductions, in
which the player just has to improve his
skills. Shortly is gameplay about which
challenges meet the player, confronted to
the player’s ability, given by the game, to
solve these problems. The greater freedom
to act, and thereby opportunity to solve
problems in a creative way according to
the game universe, the greater gameplay
value is offered the player.

Moore, C. (2008) How to turn your learners into compulsive completers Making Change – ideas for lively elearning Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Consider offering a series of rewards throughout a course or other linear experience. Each reward builds on the last to create a desirable collection–all of it imaginary.

Or turn the whole thing into a story

Of course, you won’t need separate rewards if you can make the entire course a story and use plot devices to make learners want to know what happens next.

Kuhlman, T (2008) Motivate your learner with these 5 simple tips The Rapid E-Learning blog Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Typically, people are motivated when their learning has meaning. For example, if I know that passing a course will equate to an increase in my income, I am motivated to pass the course. The same can be said for being motivated by personal safety.

Reward Your Learners. People are motivated by rewards. Figure out what type of reward you can give the learners and then build that into the course. Sometimes the rewards can be timed challenges or reaching a certain level of achievement. Other rewards could be actual merchandise, like winning an iPod. It all depends on the course.

Rewards don’t have to be tangible items. They can be simple things like affirmation and encouragement. The main point is to connect with the learners and find a way to have them feel good about some sort of achievement in your course.

Help Your Learners Perform Better. This ties into the previous point. Your course needs to have value and it needs to be relevant to what your learners do. People will be motivated to take your course and pay attention as they know it will help them perform better.

Your job is to connect the learner to the course content. If I’m taking a site safety course, I’m probably less motivated by clicking a button on a simple assessment than if I’m thrown into a real life scenario where I am challenged to work through some issues similar to what I’ll face at work. This type of approach connects me to the content, more so than screen after screen of bullet point information.

Set Clear Expectations for the Course. I’m amazed to see my children just click around on the computer screen to get what they want. On the other hand, I’ve watched adults fearful of clicking a next arrow not sure what will happen.

People tend to be leery of things they don’t understand, or if they’re not quite sure where they’re going. However, once they get a sense of what’s going on, they’re more apt to be responsive to the course.

If you want your learners motivated, then a good way to get them there is to let them know what to expect from the course that you want them to take. This all ties into the points above. You’re asking the learners to spend some of their valuable time going through your course. They expect clarity on what they’ll do, why, and what type of outcome to expect.

Tell Them They’re Wrong. Controversy gets our attention and is a good way to motivate. Challenge what a person believes, or even tell him he’s wrong, and you’ll see a person motivated to prove you wrong. Of course, this approach needs to be tempered with common sense.

However, there is a lot of value in challenging people and what they know. It’s just a matter of knowing how to do it in a manner that is appropriate. When a person is challenged it puts them at risk and they tend to pay more attention.

Create an environment where they can safely fail or make mistakes and you’ll challenge them and keep them engaged.

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Behaviorism at Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Summary: Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.” All behavior caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness.

Originators and important contributors: John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, E. L. Thorndike (connectionism), Bandura, Tolman (moving toward cognitivism)

Keywords: Classical conditioning (Pavlov), Operant conditioning (Skinner), Stimulus-response (S-R)


Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. The learner starts off as a clean slate (i.e. tabula rasa) and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again. In contrast, punishment (both positive and negative) decreases the likelihood that the antecedent behavior will happen again. Positive indicates the application of a stimulus; Negative indicates the withholding of a stimulus. Learning is therefore defined as a change in behavior in the learner. Lots of (early) behaviorist work was done with animals (e.g. Pavlov’s dogs) and generalized to humans.

Behaviorism precedes the cognitivist worldview. It rejects structuralism and is an extension of Logical Positivism.

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Social Learning Theory (Bandura) at Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

Summary: Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.

Necessary conditions for effective modeling:

  1. Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid. Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement) affect attention.
  2. Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal
  3. Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and self-observation of reproduction.
  4. Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past (i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious (seeing and recalling the reinforced model)

Bandura believed in “reciprocal determinism”, that is, the world and a person’s behavior cause each other, while behaviorism essentially states that one’s environment causes one’s behavior, Bandura, who was studying adolescent aggression, found this too simplistic, and so in addition he suggested that behavior causes environment as well. Later, Bandura soon considered personality as an interaction between three components: the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to entertain images in minds and language).

Social learning theory has sometimes been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation. The theory is related to Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated Learning, which also emphasize the importance of social learning.

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Situated Learning Theory (Lave) at Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Summary: Situated Learning Theory posits that learning is unintentional and situated within authentic activity, context, and culture.

Originator: Jean Lave

Key Terms: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP), Cognitive Apprenticeship

Situated Learning Theory (Lave)

In contrast with most classroom learning activities that involve abstract knowledge which is and out of context, Lave argues that learning is situated; that is, as it normally occurs, learning is embedded within activity, context and culture. It is also usually unintentional rather than deliberate. Lave and Wenger (1991) call this a process of “legitimate peripheral participation.”

Knowledge needs to be presented in authentic contexts — settings and situations that would normally involve that knowledge. Social interaction and collaboration are essential components of situated learning — learners become involved in a “community of practice” which embodies certain beliefs and behaviors to be acquired. As the beginner or novice moves from the periphery of a community to its center, he or she becomes more active and engaged within the culture and eventually assumes the role of an expert.

Other researchers have further developed Situated Learning theory. Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989) emphasize the idea of cognitive apprenticeship: “Cognitive apprenticeship supports learning in a domain by enabling students to acquire, develop and use cognitive tools in authentic domain activity. Learning, both outside and inside school, advances through collaborative social interaction and the social construction of knowledge.”

Situated learning is related to Vygotsky’s notion of learning through social development.
Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Social Development Theory (Vygotsky) at Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Social Development Theory (Vygotsky)

Summary: Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behavior.

Originator: Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934).

Key terms: Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory is the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), who lived during Russian Revolution. Vygotsky’s work was largely unkown to the West until it was published in 1962.

Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes:

Major themes:

  1. Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).
  2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers.
  3. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone.

Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996). According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills.

Applications of the Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory

Many schools have traditionally held a transmissionist or instructionist model in which a teacher or lecturer ‘transmits’ information to students. In contrast, Vygotsky’s theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning. Roles of the teacher and student are therefore shifted, as a teacher should collaborate with his or her students in order to help facilitate meaning construction in students. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). ADDIE Model at Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from


Summary: The ADDIE model is a systematic instructional design model consisting of five phases: (1) Analysis, (2) Design, (3) Development, (4) Implementation, and (5) Evaluation. Various flavors and versions of the ADDIE model exist.

Originator: Unknown.  Refined by Dick and Carey and others.

Key terms: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation


The generic term for the five-phase instructional design model consisting of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  Each step has an outcome that feeds into the next step in the sequence.  There are probably over 100+ different variations of the generic ADDIE model.

The five phases of ADDIE are as follows:


  • During analysis, the designer identifies the learning problem, the goals and objectives, the audience’s needs, existing knowledge, and any other relevant characteristics.  Analysis also considers the learning environment, any constraints, the delivery options, and the timeline for the project.


  • A systematic process of specifying learning objectives.  Detailed storyboards and prototypes are often made, and the look and feel, graphic design, user-interface and content is determined here.


  • The actual creation (production) of the content and learning materials based on the Design phase.


  • During implementation, the plan is put into action and a procedure for training the learner and teacher is developed.  Materials are delivered or distributed to the student group. After delivery, the effectiveness of the training materials is evaluated.


  • This phase consists of (1) formative and (2) summative evaluation. Formative evaluation is present in each stage of the ADDIE process. Summative evaluation consists of tests designed for criterion-related referenced items and providing opportunities for feedback from the users.  Revisions are made as necessary.

Rapid prototyping (continual feedback) has sometimes been cited as as a way to improve the generic ADDIE model.

Taylor, C. (2007) Reward Players, Don’t Punish them! Game Daily (70504) Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Over the past few years, I have noticed a new and fascinating trend in game design: Games are moving toward reward systems and very much away from punishment systems.

Punishment goes back to the days of coin-operated games, and even amusement parks. You got three baseballs to throw at the milk jugs, and you couldn’t win a prize unless you actually had skill. Otherwise, the game would have no meaning, and the game operator wouldn’t make a living.

(A blocker is a term that game designers use to call a part of the game that stops the player’s forward progression because of a complex puzzle, or arbitrary twist in the game.)

Video games will auto-save your game. Most will auto-load. When you die, you don’t lose all your stuff or all your experience points. We are making huge progress. We’re finding ways to be entertaining without beating the player down for being dumb and slow. And even though casual games have taught us a lot these past few years about making accessible and non-punishment oriented games, many of them can still get difficult quickly. But overall, we’re moving in a good direction.

O’Connell, M. (2008) ADDIE Design Process Canberra, ACT: Flex.Ed/CIT

The ADDIE process is an education design process that enables the design and development of your teaching and learning. This is a continuous process which includes analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

The ADDIE process is most effective when used to facilitate learner-centred approaches.


  • Who are my learners?
  • What are their learning needs and/or constraints?
  • What is the learning/training gap I can address by going online?
  • What are the key concepts, skills, attitudes?


  • What are the learning goals for my students?
  • How will I facilitate these?
  • How should I organise or structure the learning experience?
  • How should the learning experience be contextualised and by whom?
  • What kinds of activities and exercises will best help learners learn?
  • How can I measure my learners achievements?


  • What teaching resources or delivery strategies do I have?
  • What resources or strategies will I need to create? (Are there web sites, virtual classrooms, Toolboxes, learning objects, articles, videos, podcasts or vodcasts or Web 2.0 tools I can use?
  • What assessment activities or strategies do I have and what will I create?
  • Can other teachers deliver this program with these resources and approaches?


  • How will I test my resource/strategy/approach?
  • Do I need technical or specialist support?
  • Do I need to prepare other teachers?
  • Do my learners need any orientation, preparation or support?
  • How will learners support each other?


  • How will I gather learner feedback – before, during, after?
  • How will I answer questions like -
  1. Did learners like the program?
  2. Did learners achieve their learning goals?
  3. In what ways did learners contribute to their own learning?
  • How will I make use of this feedback to add to my analysis and ensure continuous improvement?
  • How will I gather feedback from others involved in design, development and delivery?

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Time has gotten away from me with this project and the research has taken a bit of a hit. I’ve been finding more and more things (that’s the easy part) but actually digging down into them to see what nuggets of wisdom there are to be gleaned is another thing entirely.

Rather than explore the papers in depth now, I’m just going to grab the most useful and salient points/quotes.

Violence and games

Endestad, T. and Torgerson, L (2003) Computer games and violence: Is there really a connection? Proceedings of DiGRA 2003 Conference: Level Up . Utrecht, The Netherlands: DiGRA

“The presented results come from a large, representative study, with approximately 2000
youths in each of five age groups. This high number of respondents made analyses
possible that had not been done earlier. We included different categories of videogames,
gender, and age group in the analysis. This allowed for a more detailed analysis of the
possible relationship between exposure to videogames and violent behaviour.

The first question raised in this paper was whether there is a connection between violent
videogames and violent behaviour, and if this effect is unique. We found an association
between violent behaviour and all categories of games. However, only violent
videogames and racer videogames had a unique positive effect on violent behaviour.
This means that there is not a strong general effect of gaming on violent behaviour. Our
results also show that it is action games, and not first person shooter games, that
predict violent behaviour.

One exception is for the youngest adolescents, where only first person shooter predicted
violent behaviour. This shows that age is an important factor, and leads us to the next
question raised in this paper. Is there a peak in preference for violent videogames and
violent behaviour in the same age group? If this is the case, will the association
between violent videogames and violent behaviour disappear after having controlled for
age? The results show that the effect of first person shooter games disappeared for most
of the age group after controlling for age and gender. However, the effect of action
videogames remains as a significant predictor in all age groups.”

Design of games – flow, motivation and player action

Paras, B (2003) Learning to Play: The design on in-game training to enhance videogame experience
Simon Fraser University 2003

In an attempt to provide a robust definition of ‘game’, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2004) looked at eight different definitions of game as provided by game historians and designers. They then deconstructed their definitions and isolated specific characteristics that were common to most or all of the definitions. They used their shared characteristics to construct a composite definition that reflected much of the best critical thinking in the history and theory
of game design. The result was the definition of game as, “a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” (ibid). When we establish goals and attach artificial conflict, we are indeed creating games within which we can either fail or succeed. This opportunity for failure and success provides players with challenging, engaging experiences. Flow
When players play games, they often become so immersed in the gameplay that things happening outside of the game do not distract. This phenomenon is known as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). As a psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi spent much of his time trying to understand how people felt when they most enjoyed themselves, and why. He defines flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
During the course of his research, Csikszentmihalyi discovered activities that most consistently produced flow. Among these activities were sports and games. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the conditions for flow require an experience where the participant’s skill is closely matched to the challenge of the activity. In game terms, the objective should be challenging, yet feel as though it is just within reach so that the player does not feel anxious. Conversely, the objective should not be too easy as to bore the player. These design attributes have been a part of games since their beginnings. Even the videogame Pong (Ralph H. Baer, 1966) applies these fundamental attributes by becoming increasingly more difficult as the player’s skill improves. When the player finally
loses in Pong, replaying the first few levels is extremely boring because their skill does not decrease. Modern day games such as Half-Life 2 (Valve, Vivendi Universal, 2004) automatically create restore points along the way so that challenge is always optimized.

2.3.1 Behaviourist Stimulus Response
On a very basic level, videogames apply behaviourist stimulus-response theory in their designs. Skinner’s ideas concerning operant conditioning address two main types of learning: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement (Bower & Hilgard, 1966). Videogames often use both types of reinforcement to
ensure that players learn. Of primary usage, though, is positive reinforcement where the player is rewarded for doing something correctly. In many games, correctly achieving a goal will result in rewards such as power-ups (increased ability for the avatar that the player controls), advances in the narrative, or in-game tokens. Videogames apply such structure on almost every level. Meaningful play requires discernable and integrated play (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). If a player performs an action, they should reap the rewards of that action both immediately and later on. Discernable interaction helps the player to learn more quickly by constantly and consistently providing feedback on the choices that they are making.
Such learning principles are important in instructional design. Games implement reward structures that entice the player to perform at their best. For example, In Burnout 3: Takedown (Criterion Games, Electronic Arts, 2004) and Need for Speed Underground 2 (Electronic Arts, Electronic Arts, 2004), the player is able to win special vehicles that they can use in game. Rather than conceal this information from the player, silhouettes of the cars create tangible stimuli. Objectives are often quite clear. To reap a reward, the player is instructed in what type of response they must perform. Continuous stimulus and response interaction encourages the player to learn and advance their skills.

2.3.4 Learning Environments
Effective learning environments are an important aspect of learning. There are recognized similarities between the design of games and the design of educational experiences. In Things that make us Smart, Donald Norman (1998) identifies seven basic requirements of effective learning environments:
1. Provide a high intensity of interaction and feedback.
2. Have specific goals and established procedures.
3. Motivate.
4. Provide a continual feeling of challenge that is neither so difficult as to create a sense of hopelessness and frustration, nor so easy as to produce boredom.
5. Provide a sense of direct engagement, producing the feeling of directly experiencing the environment, directly working on the task.
6. Provide appropriate tools that fit the user and task so well that they aid and do not distract.
7. Avoid distractions and disruptions that intervene and destroy the subjective experience.
These specifications closely match the design of most videogames. If content were properly integrated within videogame environments, the result would likely be effective, highly motivational learning. Since the requirements that Norman lists match closely to games, instructional designers should look to games as examples of these principles in action. Should they be able to integrate them into their classroom, students might become more motivated to engage in the material.

Sound in FPS games

EGrimshaw, M. and Schott, G. (2007) Situated Gaming as a sonic experience: The acoustic ecology of First-Person Shooters Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

Statements such as “the only thing the player knows about
the world of the game is what is displayed on the screen”
[20] may be valid for certain types of digital games, but
ignore the important role that sound plays in many other
digital game genres, particularly FPS games.

contrast to the image of the game environment that fakes 3-
dimensionality [4], sound is an omni-directional experience,
capable of carrying information about virtual materials and
dimensions of the game environment both on-screen and
off-screen. Thus, it is our contention that sound is a key
contributing factor to the creation of the 3-dimensionality of
FPS game worlds and the immersion of players within them.

We elected to treat audio
samples as auditory icons in order to acknowledge how
meaning is encoded in sound with the construction of a
sound object that is sounded whenever a particular event
occurs in the digital system of which it forms part. Auditory
icons can, therefore, range from sounds that are similar to
real-world analogues of the digital action to more abstract
icons. The former often require socio-cultural knowledge or
experience of the real-world equivalent, while the latter
require prior experience of the auditory icon in context.

Furthermore, the action of the
player has an affect upon sonification because it is possible,
as Stockburger states, to exercise kinaesthetic control over
that sound by the movement of a character in relation to the
position of the sound source. By moving a certain distance
away from the church, the sound is attenuated until the
point at which it ceases to play. In technical terms, the game
engine tracks the character’s position within the virtual
volume of the game world in relation to the sound source
and decreases the volume of the audio sample until it is
stopped altogether. By the simple act of fading the sound’s
volume (this also works in reverse), this form of
sonification provides a relational framework for the player
to begin to contextualize themselves within the acoustic
spaces of the acoustic ecology.

Modes of listening are utilized for various sounds within
the game. In terms of how an audience listens to film sound,
Chion suggests three modes of listening (derived originally
from electro-acoustic music theory): causal listening,
where the listener attempts to gather information about the
sound source; semantic listening, where the listener utilizes
a (semiotic) code to interpret (the meaning of) the sound,
and reduced listening, where the listener perceives and
appreciates the sound sui generis without reference to cause
or meaning… We propose a fourth mode of listening: navigational
listening…. Listening to recorded music or watching a film is an
activity lacking in much physical, haptic interactivity; in
neither case is it typically possible for the listener to move
within the musical or cinematic environment following a
sound to its apparent source. Localization or directionality
is, however, designed into FPS games. Unlike the real
world, where a static sound source can be located by
moving our heads or our bodies in relation to it, this
movement is only an illusion in FPS games. Audio beacons
primarily require navigational listening on the part of the
player as they navigate towards the source of the sound.

Using cutscenes VS not using cutscenes

Pinchbeck, D. (2007) Counting barrels in Quake 4: affordances and homodiegetic structures in FPS worlds Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

Since the release of Half Life (1998), first-person
perspective games can be seen to drive towards an
unbroken immersive experience, with fewer breaks from
real-time delivery. Simultaneously, a move towards ever
greater complexity and depth of game content can be seen,
although the basic ludic structure of the genre has remained
relatively unchanged.

Modern first-person games 1 can be characterized by an
increasing integration of story and play. One can trace a
move, beginning with Valve’s Half Life (22) away from the
string-of-pearls style of play/story management typified by
cutscene and text-based loadscreen progression that can be
found in earlier FPS games. Far Cry (5), Prey (11), Doom 3
(12), Quake 4 (13) and Half Life 2 (23) all attempt, with
varying degrees of success, to integrate their narrative
content with real-time gameplay, reducing the amount of
information existing outside this framework. In narrative
terms, one can see an emigration from heterodiegetic to
homodiegetic devices, that is, literally moving the content
in-world, into the reality presented. Those games which still
utilize cutscenes do so sporadically, and mainly for effect,

keeping with the increase in the illusion of a complex
reality, more complex narrative arcs and goal systems have
emerged from these games. It is no longer acceptable to
simply run from one location to another, blasting everything
that moves, or hit one big red button after another. Complex
worlds require complex sequences of action to maintain
their viability, and this causes something of a problem in a
genre based around a very simple ludic structure.

Presence in 3D games

McMahan, A. (2003) Immersion, Engagement and Presence: A method for Analysing 3-D Video games. In Wolf, M. and Perron, B (Ed.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp.67 – 86) New York: Routledge

means the player is caught up in the world of the game’s story (the diegetic
level), but it also refers to the player’s love of the game and the strategy
that goes into it (the nondiegetic level).

conditions create a sense of immersion in a virtual reality or 3-D computer
game: (1) the user’s expectations of the game or environment must match the
environment’s conventions fairly closely; (2) the user’s actions must have a
non-trivial impact on the environment; and (3) the conventions of the world
must be consistent, even if they don’t match those of “meatspace. ”4
and narrative genres are often used as a way of defining the conventions of
a world and to help the user align their expectations with the logic of the
world. It is no accident that role-playing and adventure games, the video
game genres that have the most in common with more linear time-based
narrative forms such as the cinema, were among the first to go 3-D.

However, narrative is not a key component of most video games. Instead,
many users appreciate games at a nondiegetic level—at the level of gaining
points, devising a winning (or at least a spectacular) strategy, and showing
off their prowess to other players during the game and afterward, dur-
ing replay. To be so engaged with a game that a player reaches a level of
near-obsessiveness is sometimes referred to as deep play.The termoriginated
with Jeremy Bentham, in his The Theory of Legislation (1931). Benthamwas
referring to a state of mind in which users would enter into games almost
irrationally, even though the stakes were so high it was pointless for them
to engage in them at all… The term deep play, when referring to
video games, then, is a measure of a player’s level of engagement.

Technical literature on pres-
ence in VR oftenmake reference to the conventions of first-person shooters
as the standards for a sense of presence and a transparent interface, especially
Doom, Quake, and Unreal. For example, Randy Pausch et al. say that Doom
“. . . get[s] users to the pointwhere the interface becomes transparent and the
user focuses on task performance.”17

Steuer gives a useful outline of the provenance of the term presence:
Presence is closely related to the phenomenon of distal attribution or external-
ization, which refer to the referencing of our perceptions to an external space
beyond the limits of the sensory organs themselves. In unmediated percep-
tion, presence is taken for granted-what could one experience other than one’s
immediate physical surroundings? However, when perception is mediated by
a communication technology, one is forced to perceive two separate environ-
ments simultaneously: thephysical environment inwhichone is actuallypresent,
and the environment presented via the medium. . . . Telepresence is the extent
to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the
immediate physical environment. . . . Telepresence is defined as the experience
of presence in an environment by means of a communication medium. . . . In
other words, “presence” refers to the natural perception of an environment, and
“telepresence” refers to the mediated perception of an environment. This envi-
ronment can be either a temporally or spatially distant “real” environment (for
instance, a distant space viewed through a video camera), or an animated but
non-existent virtualworld synthesized by a computer (for instance, the animated
“world” created in a video game).

Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton define presence as “the artifi-
cial sense that a user has in a virtual environment that the environment
is unmediated. ”24
They surveyed the literature on presence and found that
other researchers had conceptualized presence as the result of a combina-
tion of one or all of six different factors. Their summary indicated that an
increased sense of presence can result from a combination of all or some of
the following factors: quality of social interaction, realism in the environ-
ment (graphics, sound, etc.), from the effect of “transportation, ” from the
degree of immersiveness generated by the interface, fromthe user’s ability to
accomplish significant actionswithin the environment and the social impact
of what occurs in the environment, and from users responding to the com-
puter itself as an intelligent, social agent.

Quality of Social Interaction
The first element of presence is the quality of the social interaction available
within the VRE, that is, if it was perceived as “sociable, warm, sensitive, per-
sonal or intimate when it is used to interact with other people.”28
andDitton surveyed studies whichmeasured how different communication
media could “(a) overcome the various communication constraints of time,
location, permanence, distribution, and distance, (b) transmit the social,
symbolic, and nonverbal cues of human communication; and (c) convey
equivocal information. ” Key concerns were how intimacy and immediacy
were achieved in the medium in question, especially how language choices
helped reach those goals.
Durlach and Slater30
assert that the sense of being with someone, or the
sense of togetherness, contributes to a heightened sense of presence; this
definition includes the ability for all the participants in the VRE to interact
with the space as well as with each other.

Asense of realismis also an important factor, that is, howaccurately does the
virtual environment represent objects, events and people. Realism is subdi-
vided into social realism (the extent to which the social interactions in the
VRE matched interactions in the real world), and perceptual realism (how
closely do the objects, environments, and events depicted match those that
actually exist).

“The art of V[R]E design is surely to provide users with carefully structured
opportunities to allow them to explore, strategise, and generally feel some
sense of control over what they are doing. ” Perceptual opportunities include
Sureties, Shocks, and Surprises.
“Sureties” aremundane details that are attractive because they are highly
predictable. Examples of sureties include:Architectural details such as lamp-
posts, street furniture, and marks to indicate distance; indicators to tell us
where to go such as railings, paths, doorways; and background sound that
reassures us (cars in distance, etc.).
Shocks are poor design elements that jar the user out of the sense of
“reality” of the VRE, such as the “end of the world” shock—the user can see
where the environment ends; “film set shock”—buildings are incomplete;
polygon leaks—seeing through cracks; and latency and motion sickness
caused by poor design or overlong use of the hardware.
Surprises are nonpredictable details that arise logically out of the VRE
design. There are three types of Surprises: attractors, connectors, and re-
Attactors tempt the user to go or do something. These include mystery
objects the user may want to examine, such as moving object that attract
attention (such as animation), objects needed for tasks in the VRE, objects
that cause fear, alien objects that indicate the end of a level, sensation objects
that attract attention through the nonvisual sense, awesome objects that
impress by their size, and dynamically figured objects that relocate in space
and time.
Connectors are configurations of perceptual opportunities that help the
visitor figure out howto use/explore theVRE, such as axes or direction signs,
choice points that should indicate outcome of both choices, and deflectors
such as a closed door.
Retainers are the interesting things that make users linger and enjoy the
VRE such as hot spots, learning areas, puzzles, gadgets, and so on.
PerceptualMaps are designs that showhowsureties, surprises, and shocks
work together.

Perceptual and Psychological Immersion
Presence is also the result of perceptual and psychological immersion. The
first is accomplished by blocking as many of the senses as possible to the
outsideworldandmaking itpossible for theuser toperceiveonly the artificial
world, by the use of goggles, headphones, gloves, and so on. The second
results from the user’s mental absorption in the world.

Theorists such as
Schuemie et al.
have followed Lombard and Ditton in assuming that the
ability to interact with the mediated environment is the most important
factor in the sense of presence, and that this explains why immersive virtual
reality environments have been shown to be effective in the treatment of fear
of heights, fear of flying, arachnophobia, claustrophobia, and agoraphobia,
and the fear of being in places from which escape might be difficult or

The Use of a Social Actor in the Medium
The use of a synthetic social actor also can lead to a heightened sense of
presence. Users respond to virtual guides and virtual pets inmuch the same
way they respond to the direct address of newscasters on TV.
Synthetic social actors can be of different types. For example, an inter-
action with a social actor can be preprogrammed.

Intelligent Environment
Finally, a sense of presence can result fromusers responding to the computer
itself as an intelligent, social agent. Humans tend to do this, even though
they consciously understand that such responses to computers are illogical.
Responses, such as treating a computer with politeness and ascribing it
with gender stereotypes are aimed at the computer itself, and not to the
programmer. Therefore, when the virtualmediumitself follows basic social
cues, the userwill feel a higher sense of presence.This includesmost artificial
intelligence (AI) programming, such as natural language programming,
which is designed to make the machine seem more human….

I am currently conducting an experiment in how the sense of presence
is altered if a 3-D CAVE environment responds to the user’s subconscious
cues as well as conscious ones. The name of the project is The Memesis
Project. It is an experiment in interactive narrative designed to test certain
theories of presence and immersion in the environment and transparency
or immediacy in the interface. In this version of Memesis, the environment
is designed to resemble a haunted house that collects information about the
user’s phobias and deep-seated psychological fears in order to provide an
ultimate,more thrilling “haunted house” experience. If the first, single-user
version is successful, future versions of Memesis are planned to carry the
interactive narrative and engagement research even further.
The principle
goal is to see how much and in what way a more intelligent environment
can affect the user’s sense of presence.

(More of the same – presence in games)

Pinchbeck, D., Stevens, B., Van Laar, D., Hand, S., Newman, K. 2006. Narrative, agency and observational behavioiur in a first person shooter environment. Presented at Narrative AI and Games AISOB Symposium, Bristol, UK, April 2006

The relationship between narrative and play is fre-
quently debated amongst game researchers, often in
relation to the discussion of narrative’s role in
knowledge acquisition, memory, perception, con-
sciousness and subjective reality (Ryan, 2001; de
Mul, 2005; Pinchbeck, 2006).

Simply because we remember narratives well, it
does not follow that either narrative information is
privileged in perception, or that narrative has any
impact whatsoever on the act of perception.

FPS games were selected
as a form of mass market virtual environment,
where the avatar is minimally intrusive and thus a
greater projection of the player into the game world
is potentially enabled. The relationship between the
narrative of the game and the experience of the
player is likewise more direct than third person per-spective game experiences, as the avatar is less ex-
plicitly implicated or impacted by game events. In
other words, it is less a case of controlling an avatar
than undertaking actions oneself. Under such cir-
cumstances, it is reasonable to expect a less abstract
engagement with the game than would be expected
with the filter of a third person, visible avatar.

Deus Ex (2000) ef-
fectively combined FPS action with a highly suc-
cessful branching narrative structure, actively en-
couraging ethical engagement in the player over
mindless violence, and is still frequently cited as one
of the pinnacle achievements of the genre. The se-
quel, Invisible War, is a failed attempt to replicate
this success, suffering primarily from both an overly
obtuse and intrusive narrative which results in con-
stant interruptions to play and over-frequent envi-
ronment loading screens. Both Half Life (1998), and
Half Life 2 (2004) reduce the active disruption of
play by excluding narrative cut-scenes entirely, but
nevertheless rely on strong narrative to drive play
forwards and have been applauded for their narra-
tive strength and focus. Half Life’s developers,
Valve, have also hinted strongly that the follow-up
to Half Life 2 will involve a greater emphasis on
interaction with non-player characters, something
which suggests an ongoing focus on narrative im-

Eye tracking was initially put forward as an ad-
ditional, objective, real-time measure that could be
used to cross-validate subjective measures, in the
form of post-test presence questionnaires. However,
the data yielded some intriguing suggestions of pat-
terns that are worth examining in more detail. In
particular, three sets of patterns stand out:
1. Differences in perceptual behaviour between
experienced players and novices;
2. Relative importance of architectural and
agent-based objects in the environment;
3. Shifts in perceptual behaviour in action- and
exploration-based sequences.

Jenkins (2003) postulates four types of narrative
inherent to game experience: embedded, enacted,
evoked and emergent. The terms correspond to:
1. Devices distributed throughout the play envi-
ronment that convey narrative information;
2. The narrative act formed by experiencing the
environment as a whole;
3. Pre-existing narratives from the player’s pre-
vious experiences, which are not limited to game
play and that are triggered by events or objects dur-
ing play;
4. The narrative that is created as a result of play.

Narrative must be distinguished from story in
order to enable a discussion of the comparative in-
fluence of short-term goal achievements on longer
term, plot-based goal achievements upon player
behaviour. Narrative is defined here as a linear se-
quence of actions or events, linked in a causal man-
ner, which yields meaning. Two points need further
clarification: firstly, that this causality may be pro-
jected or implied, rather than inherent in the actions
or events themselves; secondly, that narrative is to
be seen as a type of schema, an information man-
agement device.

(The researchers got 5 players of different skill levels to play 2 levels of HalfLife2 and used eye tracking devices to record what they looked at during the sessions)

A number of key differences to observational
and exploratory behaviour were immediately appar-
ent between novices and experienced players. The
most immediate and expected was that the novices
looked off-screen to the controls more frequently or
positioned their point of focus (hereafter referred to
as the focal point) at the bottom of the screen to
keep the controls in their peripheral vision. Inter-
estingly, however, two of the three novices stated in
their post-test questionnaires that they felt they had
not looked offscreen. This would suggest a moder-
ate sense of presence was being generated, accord-
ing to parameters to be found in the literature
(Youngblut, 2003), and was corroborated by post-
test subjective response. In the case of the third
novice, the test was stopped after seven minutes due
to simulator sickness. However, it was apparent that
the participant, even though reporting that they were
conscious of looking outside the screen often, felt a
degree of spatial presence, as evidenced by whole
head movements to attempt to gain better perspec-tives on the environment, and moderate scores in
post-test presence questionnaires.

Fig 2: Novices tend to track objects with focal point
whilst avatar perspective remains fixed.

By contrast, experienced gamers restricted their
gaze to predominantly the central section of the dis-
play, using avatar perspective to explore their sur-
roundings, i.e., moving the window around the vir-
tual world…Experts keep their focus close
to the aiming mechanism

The suggestion that experienced gamers oper-
ate according to learned schema must be tempered
with the understanding that it may be due in part to
their simply being more adept at using the interface.
Interestingly, as novices became more confident
with the controls, it appeared that their gaze was
beginning to centre.

Non-human but moving objects seemed secon-
dary in terms of attached importance. The flying
Scanners found in both sections of the game wereattended to, but generally after human agents had
been assessed, or in their absence. The giant televi-
sion screens found in three separate locations in
“Point Insertion” received comparatively little at-
tention from most participants, and only one partici-
pant spent any more than a second or two observing
them. It was noted that perhaps the information
transmitted by the devices is primarily auditory, but
they do remain a striking and active visual features
of the environment.

The evidence of hierarchical attention, especially
in the experienced gamers, is more suggestive of an
FPS schema than the focal point and avatar per-
spective relationship. The taxonomy of narrative
devices appears to function as expected: those ob-
jects which enable the greatest projection of agency
are prioritised in perception. Background narrative,
however, is relatively minimal in importance. Dur-
ing “Route Kanal”, a looped announcer’s voice is
clearly and regularly audible, but participants strug-
gled to remember if the voice was male or female,
and one did not remember a voice at all.

The fact that non-narrative devices are the
focus of visual attention more than any passive nar-
rative devices in such situations seems to suggest
that achieving micro-goals far outweighs any im-
portance attached to even short term narrative. How
an object may be dangerous or useful seems to over-
shadow its meaning.

More stuff on how to tell story in games – cutscene vs non-cutscene

Cheng, P. (2007) Waiting for something to happen: Narratives, Interactivity and Agency and the Video Game Cut-Scene Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

Since cut-scenes often follow
cinematic codes of representation, current theory often
renders the cut-scene as passive and non-interactive, as
opposed to the interactive nature of gameplay.

Building on this definition then, the standard
distinction made between game play and cut-scene is the
fact that the former is “active” or “interactive” and that the
latter is “passive.” This is the problem that Juul points to
his in definition of the cut-scene, because they “prevent the
player from doing anything” (emphasis mine). Similarly,
Rehak defines the cut-scene as moments in the game that
are, “intended for viewing, not playing. At those moments,
the game cues players (typically by shifting to a
‘letterboxed’ mode with black bars at the screen top and
bottom) to remove their hands from the controls and simply
watch information that advances the game’s narrative” [18].

There are many unique aspects to King Kong. It
uses a first-person perspective when the user plays as Jack
Driscoll and also a third-person perspective as Kong
himself. This switch in perspective has important
implications in terms of agency that will be explored later
in the paper. In terms of its cinematic presentation, King
Kong consciously upsets several conventions of the video
game in order to, according to game designer Michel Ancel,
“put…you in the movie” [6]. To this extent, many items
that would be considered standard for games, mostly in the
form of on-screen indicators for life, ammunition or
mapping, is noticeably absent. Instead, health levels are
indicated by audio and visual cues: the screen turns red and
the images blur to indicate severe injury and the music and
sound effects change, as if your character is beginning to
fall unconscious; the player presses a button to hear your
avatar, Jack Driscoll, report on the amount of ammunition
remaining: “I’m almost dry;” and the game is designed in
such a way, through level progression and shorter levels,
that a real-time mapping mechanic is rendered unnecessary.
Most importantly, King Kong utilizes a game play dynamic
first seen in the ground-breaking Half-Life in 1998.
Narrative information commonly presented in cut-scenes is
instead presented in the form of “dynamic story events” [6],
meaning that narrative information, usually found in the
form of dialogue and conversations or even key plot events,
are presented as part of game play, wherein the player still
has full game play control of the character.

Frome, J. (2007) Eight Ways Videogames Generate Emotion Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

The notion of emotional response relies on the extremely
ambiguous term “emotions”. There are many ways to
classify emotions, such as Ekman’s basic emotion types (joy,
sadness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, interest, and
contempt) [3].

Players take two
roles when they engage with videogames. The first role I
call observer-participant. An observer-participant engages
with an artwork but does not change the material form of
the work. In this role, engagement with videogames is
similar to engagement with films. When we watch films, we
observe the images and sounds the film presents but we do
not change these features of the film. Similarly, during
videogame play, there are many images and sounds that a
player cannot change, and a player’s response to these
aspects of the game are based on her observation. I call this
role observer-participant in recognition that when you
engage with an artwork, in addition to merely observing its
form, you participate with it in significant ways through
your mental activity. You cognitively process the images
into meaningful representations, you construct the story
through inference, and you evaluate characters as
sympathetic or not. Observer-participation gives the player
a constrained freedom in their understanding of an artwork.
For example, players can freely disagree about whether
Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games, 1998) celebrates or
ironically criticizes violence, but if they did not agree that
the game allows a player’s avatar to steal cars, we would
say that they had made a mistake. As observer-participants,
players’ emotional responses are based on what they see,
hear, and feel. They can interpret these inputs in different
ways but they cannot change the inputs themselves.

Is it this aspect of the observer-participant role that
distinguishes it from the second role: actor-participant. The
actor-participant does change the material form of an
artwork. Unlike films or books, interaction that changes the
form of an artwork is the norm for videogames. As you play
the first-person shooter Halo (Bungie, 2001), for example,
you determine much of what appears onscreen through you
gameplay. When you press a button, the character you
control throws a grenade, changing the images on the
screen. When you pull a trigger, you character fires his
weapon. Videogame play requires actor-participation
because any moves you make must be represented in a
manner that changes the game’s material form. As an actor-
participant, players’ emotional responses are based
primarily on what they do rather than what they perceive.

I propose a
different method of classifying videogame-generated
emotions based on the different aspects of a videogame to
which a player might respond. The two most obvious
aspects are game and narrative, which we might think of as
causing game emotions and narrative emotions.

We can think of game emotions as
emotions of competition; they are emotions generated due
to winning, losing, accomplishment, and frustration. When
you are playing a videogame, game emotions are directly
related to your performance. You might be anxious playing
Robotron: 2084 (Williams, 1982) when killer robots begin
to swarm you and threaten to end your game. Completing a
level in 1942 (Capcom, 1984) with a 100% kill rate can
provide a deep sense of satisfaction.

Narrative emotions are based on a videogame’s characters,
settings, and events. Whereas game emotions are caused by
videogames but not other media such as film or literature,
all narrative art can generate narrative emotions, and they
are the most common emotions we feel when engaging with
artworks. One example of a narrative emotion is sadness
that Rick and Ilsa fail to stay together at the end of
Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942).

Although it is fairly intuitive that videogames can generate
game and narrative emotions, there are two other categories
of emotion that are also important to understanding the
experience of gameplay. The first is artifact emotion, a
concept developed by Ed Tan to explain emotional
responses to film [7]. Artifact emotions are those that are
generated by our response to a work as an artifact, or
crafted art object. Although every emotional response to art
is prompted by an artwork, artifact emotions are about the
artwork as an artwork; they are about the way the artwork
represents its story or content. In other words, artifact
832emotions are emotions of aesthetic evaluation. Artifact
emotions might include anger that Superman Returns
(Electronic Arts, 2006) is too short because it can be
completed in just six hours, admiration for the impressive
clothing textures in The Godfather (Electronic Arts, 2006),
or frustration at the complex interface one must master to
play Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (Red Storm, 1998).

The last type of emotion in the model is ecological
emotions, which are generated when a player responds to a
videogame in much the same way she responds to the real
world. I call these ecological emotions in reference to
ecological psychology’s emphasis on the interaction
between people and their environments. To understand
what I mean by ecological emotions, consider an apparent
paradox: when we play a survival-horror videogame such as
Fatal Frame (Temco, 2001), we may scream in fear, but we
never run out of the room in fear…

we may consciously know that
the ghost on the screen cannot actually harm us, but its
sudden appearance may cause us to jump with surprise. It is
this surprise which I classify as an ecological emotion. We
jump as if the ghost were part of our real environment and
could actually hurt us. Whereas an artifact emotion
responds to a videogame at the level of representation, an
ecological emotion responds to what the videogame
represents, and responds to it as if it were real. This is not to
say that our response will be as intense as it would be in
real life, but only that ecological emotions to
representations are in accord with the emotional responses
we would have to that which is represented.

The different audience roles and types of emotion discussed
thus far suggest a framework for thinking about which
aspects of artworks generate different types of emotions. I
call the stimuli presented by artworks emotion inputs. The
computer metaphor should not be taken too strongly;
players are not identical and will not respond to inputs in
the same way.

Sorensen, B. and Meyer, B. (2007) Serious Games in language learning and teaching – a theoretical perspective Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

and Kern (2000) argue that in the past 40 years language
instruction has generally existed in a field of continuous
change where “the focus of instruction has broadened from
the teaching of discrete grammatical structures to the
fostering of communicative ability” (Warschauer & Kern
2000, 1). The consequences of these instructional shifts are
among other things that recent trends in language education
generally prioritise communication and negotiation of
meaning over structural language drills…The
transformation of these three phases of technology based
language teaching and learning may be summed up in the
claim that the role of technology in language learning has
been moving away from an association with drills,
grammatical explanations and translation tests, into more
communicative based contexts where task-based, project-
based and content-based approaches are integrated with

Games may provide the opportunity for going beyond
‘manipulative’ approaches (Dunkel 1991) as games are not
necessarily about memorizing or providing correct answers,
but rather about the performance of skills within a specific
system of thinking and acting. As argued by Kossuth (in
Underwood 1987) in games “the user does not think about
the language in use, but only about the action and where it
might lead next” (217). In this sense games may be a lever
for the transformation of drill-based to context-based
acquisition. In addition to this, performance may be
increased by game-based activity, as learners may
“voluntarily read more than they would if assigned a linear
text, and their comprehension can be expected to increase
with each repetition” (ibid.).

Two main conclusions from the research project Children
growing up with interactive media – in a future perspective
that affected the game-based design of LAB were: 1)
children live in both physical and virtual spaces, and 2)
children mainly make use of the digital media in their
leisure time and they learn to use digital media primarily
from other children and through their own experiments.

The Mingoville course contains 10 missions that take the
learners through the following themes: The Family, Colours
and Clothes, Numbers and Letters, Nature and Seasons, The
Body, Food and Shop, Time and Travel, Animals, House
and Furniture as well as Sports and Media. The missions are
not only theme based but contain a number of activities that
aim at for instance vocabulary training, spelling, and word
recognition. “Stories” is thus an activity where children can
listen to and create narratives. “Creative lab” is a laboratory
where children can draw pictures or sing karaoke in English,
and “Games” are serious games that involve for instance
the construction of sentences and the recognition of words.
One of the most popular interactive features of the course is
currently the activity “Let’s talk about you” where children
are interviewed for Mingoville Times by one of the course
characters. The interview is then published in the
newspaper where parents and friends can read it.

Magnussen, R. (2007) Teacher roles in learning games – When games become situated in schools Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

Using learning games in education gives rise to a learning
situation where game culture meets school culture and the
result can be successful or corrupting for both… When teachers use this type of games, they have to
adapt to new teaching situations and roles. This includes the
fictional role in a game, but also the role as a supervisor for
a group of students that play the role as professional experts.

In the manual the teacher’s role is primarily defined as a
helper and initiator. The teacher has access to all the
answers and should advise students by asking open
questions that will help players focus and get back on track
if they get stuck in the investigation process. The pupils can
get the data they need from the ‘police database’ but the
teacher is still in control of what is released at what point in
the game. In the manual, the teacher is also encouraged to
role-play the chief of investigation who advice the
investigators, but let them take the decisions. The chief sets
the agenda at the status meetings where all the groups
reports to each other and he or she asks critical questions
about the further investigation. The teachers should work on
striking a balance where they play roles to a degree that
feels natural to them instead of not playing roles at all. In
the manual, the teachers are reminded that it can be
disrupting for the pupils’ identification with their roles in
the game if they have to step out of the role in the game and
into the ‘pupils’ role whenever they speak to the teacher. In
the manual it is stressed that it is important to maintain the
illusion throughout the game that the pupils are doing
something important in solving the cases, this keeps up
motivation for conducting the investigation process…

We received several comments about the teacher manual
while we worked with different groups of teachers. In
comparison with traditional school books and other
materials sold by the publisher, the IT-supported role-
playing game is a novelty to many teachers. The teacher
therefore expressed a need for a quick overview of the
game situation that the teachers’ manual did not provide.
Before we initiated the game test, the author of this paper
therefore used one or two three-hour sessions with the
teachers after they have had a chance to study the game
manual. The teachers were both introduced to the technical
side of the game (the student and the teacher interface) but
also to the role of the teacher and how he or she was
expected to role-play as chief of investigation

The teacher might not be aware of how changing the game
rules breaks the pupils’ illusion that they conduct important
actions in the classroom context. This can be seen as
breaking ‘The magic circle of the game’ (Salen &
Zimmerman, 2004). The magic circle of a game is defined
by Salen and Zimmerman as ‘the space within which a
game takes place.’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). In this
definition, the magic circle is created whenever players
decide to play a game. They can step into a formalized
circle with set rules (like backgammon) or they can create
their own magical circle (like arm wrestling). The circle is
the boundary of the game space where the rules of the game
have authority. In this space game objects obtain special
‘Within the magic circle, special meanings accrue and
cluster around objects and behaviors. In effect, a new reality
is created, defined by the rules of the game and inhabited by
its players. Before a game of Chutes and ladders starts, it’s
just a board, some plastic pieces, and a die. But once the
game begins, everything changes. Suddenly the materials
represents something quite specific. This plastic token is
you. These rules tell you how to roll the die and move.
Suddenly it matters very much which plastic token reaches
the end first.’ p. 96 [6].

Jarvinen, A. (2007) Introducing Applied Ludology: Hands-on methods for Game Studies Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

The theory of game elements is based on the
notion of games as systems, i.e. dynamic wholes with
interacting parts [cf. 10]. I have defined nine game elements,
which represent different parts found in game systems
across various media and technologies.
However, the aim has been to incorporate such a formal
model of games into another model that is more sensitive to
players and the contexts of play. To achieve this, I have
employed sociologist Erwin Goffman’s concept of focused
gathering: ‘social arrangements that occur when persons are
in one another’s immediate physical presence’, which
involve, e.g., ‘a single visual and cognitive focus of
attention’. For Goffman, playing a game presents a specific
instance of focused gatherings: he calls them gaming
encounters [5].

The first step in trying to understand how a game as a
system works is to find out what are the parts of the system.
The first method introduced is created for the purpose of
identifying the parts, i.e. game elements. It is based on a
theory which defines nine possible element categories that
are found throughout the universe of games. The categories
are explained below, proceeding from simpler elements to
the more complex:
Components: The resources for play; what is being moved
or modified — physically, virtually, in transactions — in the
game, between players and the system. Tokens, tiles, balls,
characters, points, vehicles are common examples of game
Environment: The space for play – boards, grids, mazes,
levels, worlds.
Ruleset: The procedures with which the game system
constrains and moderates play, with goal hierarchy as an
especially important subset.
Game mechanics: What actions the players take as means to
attain goals when playing. Placing, shooting, manoeuvring
are examples of what players are put to perform in many
Theme: The subject matter of the game which functions as a
metaphor for the system and the ruleset.
Information: What the players need to know and what the
game system stores and presents in game states: Points,
clues, time limits, etc.
Interface: In case there are no direct, physical means for the
player to access game elements, interface provides a tool to
do that.
Players: Those who play, in various formations and with
various motivations, by performing game mechanics in
order to attain goals.
Contexts: Where, when, and why the gaming encounter
takes place.
By minimum, a game has to have Components,
Environment, and at least one Game Mechanic. When the
relationships of these three elements are defined and
implemented, it means that a Ruleset emerges, as does
Information. Then we need Players, and any gaming
encounter brings about various Contexts, that may vary
from one encounter to the next one.

Game mechanics are essential game elements in that they
are always about doing something in the game. In everyday
experience, performing game mechanics is what playing a
game is about. Game mechanics are best described with
verbs: Choosing, guessing, moving, aiming, shooting,
collecting, kicking, trading, performing, bidding, etc. Thus
the nature of a mechanic, i.e. the action it at once allows,
but also puts the player to perform, might come to define
the game experience for the player.

Uncertainty factors as cues of non-trivial player abilities
Any game that allows use of skill in attaining goals (instead
of, e.g., pure chance) must offer opportunities for the skills
to develop. However, it has been shown that after early
development of abilities in practicing sports, the use of the
abilities soon becomes routinised, as they require less
cognitive processing [1]. The same can be assumed of any
game, and therefore charting all the possible human abilities
that are required in performing a particular game mechanic
yields mostly trivial results — e.g., that abilities of visual
perception are required in order to understand what goes on
in the game.

The results which the method yields can be used for a
tentative model of suspense in games, at least in the casual
ones analysed. In this light, it would seem that ‘good’
player experiences are emotional rollercoasters: they
manage to produce an oscillation between realization of
success and victory condition (hope) and preventation of
end condition and failure (fear). This oscillation persists in
the behaviour of the system until uncertainty concerning
outcome is resolved, but it is also in the nature of the
osciallation to be unexpected — which points to a set of
other relevant emotions (shock, surprise) to be studied.

Rambusch, J., Jakobsson, P. and Pargman, D. (2007) Exploring E-sports: A Case Study of Gameplay in Counter-Strike Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA

From a methodological standpoint there are two ways of

studying and understanding gameplay. On the one hand

there is the handling of the game, i.e. the actual (physical

and motorical) activity of playing the game. On the other

hand, we have player’s meaning-making activities, i.e. their

understanding of the game in terms of how the game is to

be played, their role in the game and the culture around the

game [cf. 30].

This is an analytical distinction since in

practice both elements are closely related; the handling of

the game has an impact on players’ understanding of the

game and vice versa. For instance, our study shows that

players who become better at handling Counter-Strike start

taking playing activities more seriously which leads to more

practice and yet higher levels of proficiency

The idea of both elements being closely related is strongly

supported by theories of embodied and situated cognition

(EC/SC). According to these theories sensori-motor activity

is inextricably intertwined with higher cognitive processes

such as learning, reasoning, problem solving and decision-

making, i.e. handling and meaning-making are closely

related. Moreover, gameplay is a situated social-cultural

activity, spanning brain, body, and game environment [25].

It is distributed and coordinated across player, game

interface, game world and game structure [1] as well as

other objects and people. People are very proficient in using

the material and social environment and act in for their own

benefit [8,16] and the same goes for playing computer

games; the line between virtual game world and real life is not as clear-cut as often believed.

However, as video recordings and interviews revealed,

configuration of the equipment does have an important

impact on gameplay in CS. This has little to do with

players’ beliefs or feelings; instead, it has to do with the

isomorphism between how the physical environment is

configured in relation to the in-game environment. The

typical line-up at a tournament consists of five players

sitting in a row next to each other. Players can thus make

use of “neighbors” screens as well as their own; instead of

asking for others’ in-game locations and actions, they can

simply glance sideways. This is also the reason why the

virtual line-up of a clan inside the game to large extent

mirrors the line-up in front of the computer and how in-

game roles and positions to some extent become visible in

the clan’s physical line-up. This clearly shows how players

escape their virtual confines and take cognitive advantage

of the surrounding game environment

The two

dominant discourses of identity in the community forum are

those of professionalism and athleticism. The professional

identity is expressed in the concern of the community to

come off as serious, dedicated and mature with a clear goal

and vision: to turn CS into an accepted sport with chances

for practitioners to make a living from playing the game.

Appeal to excellence, physical fitness, endurance, practice

and hard work constitutes the basis for a discourse of


Falstein, N. (2008) Design Language: The Portal Paradoxes Gamasutra (3616) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from

The basic gameplay elements are also quite minimal, a true mark of excellent game design. I often quote Einstein, who said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” as guidance in game design, yet it is rare that a game follows that precept as well as Portal. The initial levels are perfectly tuned to just fly by, giving the player a sense of mastery and competence.

In fact, when I listened to the level design commentary after completing levels I was struck by how nearly all the changes and tuning seemed to involve adjusting the learning curve of the game; making things clear, introducing some elements more gradually in order to let players grasp them fully, reminding them with a simple challenge of game mechanisms introduced earlier on just before they are needed again.

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It’s also worth noting how the simple icons at the start and at key points of each level give you the hints necessary to understand what you need to do without dialog or even text labels — yet another minimalist touch. Likewise, the type of enemies is severely limited compared to most first person shooters. I love the fact that they resisted the opportunity to add various types of guns and tools and powerups or complex double-jumps or climbing mechanisms that clutter so many examples of the genre.

Ultimately, one clearly positive lesson they followed is one I’ve heard echoed by such luminaries as Sid Meier and Will Wright; to iterate the design frequently and test it with fresh players over and over again.

This is an important way to keep from tweaking a game to be gradually harder and harder as the same testers grow bored and keep requesting tougher challenges. Project Leader Kim Swift has mentioned how they constantly adjusted the game to make it understandable to beginners.

This is a supremely accessible game — you may feel challenged at times (I know as a fairly basic action player I had trouble mastering some of the timing required at higher levels) but it was always clear what I had to do, and it never felt far out of my reach. Conversely, it felt tough enough that I had a very strong sense of accomplishment and victory — what Nicole Lazzaro refers to as Fiero — when I came up with ways to get through the levels.

Harris, J. (2007) Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes Gamasutra (1937) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from

There is a theory that the controls of a video game should do their best to get out of the player’s way. The interaction between the player’s mind and the game world should be as simple as possible… In the absence of such technology, controls should be standardized so a player can move from one game to another easily. They seek to develop a shared control language that applies across games: left stick moves, right controls camera, the major action button shoots, a secondary one jumps, shoulder buttons flip between weapons — that kind of thing.

Bogost, I. (2007) Persuasive Games: Casual as in sex, not casual as in Friday Gamasutra (2844) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from

Proponents argue that casual games both open up new audiences for games and make new styles of games possible, but the genre has largely floundered in copycat titles.

According to the IGDA Casual Games white paper, casual games are “games that generally involve less complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.” The group contrasts casual games with “hardcore” or “core” or “traditional” games — games “developed for and delivered on a dedicated game console” that “involve more complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.”

We might summarize the industry’s conception of casual games along two axes: design considerations and player resources. Because casual gamers don’t play many games, or don’t play them very often, they are unfamiliar with the complex conventions that might feel second nature to hardcore gamers.

These games attempt to minimize complexity and investment in player time, money, and control mastery. Casual games sport designs and controls of reduced complexity that take little time to learn and to play, that come at modest cost and are easy to purchase. Casual games typically offer short gameplay sessions, come at a lower cost than hardcore games, and allow play on more ordinary devices like personal computers and mobile phones.

The typical design values of casual games strongly resemble the early coin-op industry. Consider controls. Nolan Bushnell’s cabinet version Spacewar!, which he called Computer Space didn’t sell well. One reason for its failure was complexity. As Bushnell explains, “You had to read the instructions before you could play, people didn’t want to read instructions.”1 Pong fixed the problem. Bushnell: “To be successful, I had to come up with a game people already knew how to play; something so simple that any drunk in any bar could play.” The Pong cabinet features one instruction: “Avoid missing ball for high score.”

One can easily draw a connection between the taverngoing Pong player and the after-bedtime Bejeweled player. The IGDA SIG explicitly recommends mouse-only control for casual games (“The interaction between the user and the game should be limited to the computer mouse”). A mouse is something every computer user owns and knows how to use. Simple controls on existing equipment seem to be well-addressed design strategies in casual games.

A common design philosophy for casual games is “easy to learn, hard to master.” Casual games are supposed respect the value of their players’ time, making it easier to learn to play the game. But the notion of mastery raises doubt about low commitment in casual games. Individual casual game sessions often do require only short amounts of time: a round of Solitaire or Tetris or Bejeweled might take less than five minutes. But the maxim “easy to learn, hard to master” reveals that casual games actually demand significant total play time.

Players are expected to string short game sessions together, either at once or over long periods, to maximize performance. A casual games proponent might argue that the player might choose not to master the game, but rather just to play short sessions early in the title’s progression (“games you can play for five minutes or five hours”). But the business of casual games belies such argument: for one part, the typical cost of a downloadable game suggests that medium- to long-term player commitment is required to get value from a purchase; and for another part, downloadable games’ 1-2% conversion on try-before-you-buy purchases suggests that the vast majority of players are satisfied with the gameplay experience of the trial anyway. Mastery demands high, not low, commitment.

I’d suggest that the genre’s current conception of “casualness” suggests informality. If core or hardcore games are “formal” in the sense that they require adherence to complex gameplay and social conventions, then casual games are “informal” in the sense that they do not require such strict adherence. Informality is a kind of “dressing down” of an otherwise more “proper” gaming practice. But informality also underscores the likelihood of regular, repetitive engagement with that practice. This is the casual of casual dress or casual Friday, both of which articulate a respite from the formality of business or social attire and mannerisms. Casual Friday is a repetitive, habitual casualness: come as you are, but expect to do it every week.

Applied to games, casual as informality characterizes the notions of pick-up play common in casual games while still calling for repetition and mastery. This is why casual games can value both short session duration and high replayability or addictiveness. Casual games may allow short session play time, but they demand high total playtime, and therefore high total time commitment on the part of the player. Low commitment represents the primary unexplored design space in the casual games market.

Most game developers are “core gamers”, well versed in the complex logics of resource allocation. We tend to privilege simplicity and emergence in games, favoring sophisticated experiences that create new challenges each time we play. And perhaps one well-balanced, mastery-style casual game is less financially risky than many throwaway experiences. But such an attitude ignores the pleasures of the fleeting, the transitory, the impermanent. Casual games, perhaps, can do more by doing less.

Ghozland, D. (2007) Designing for Motivation Gamasutra (1419) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from

The player has to “believe” in the game, identify himself with something and quickly get one’s bearings.

The tutorial is essential to guide the player in this development. This is an interactive part where the player becomes acquainted with the game. In general, the tutorial should be the first level(s) where the basics are taught; however, this should not be apparent. Motivated by his need to learn and to understand, the player will be even more receptive if the tutorial seems to be a “natural way to go”. A tutorial that only enumerates rules and controls is absolutely anti-immersive and not very motivating.

We have to offer challenges to the player in order to entertain him and test him along with rewards that would motivate him to continue playing. Motivating the player is also to understand his needs with the purpose of fulfilling them. It is thus to know but also “to control” the progress of his needs in order to increase them, vary them and modify them from the beginning till the end of the game.

A reward can take several forms but it must be in correlation with the universe and with the player’s expectations. A reward is related to a challenge, a test or an effort, and thus must be proportional to the difficulty to obtain it.

In general, shoot’em up and beat’em up style games are based on the player state P. The player’s characteristics (character, ship, etc.) are upgradeable but are not permanent. Everything the player can acquire is temporary. He can lose his bonuses at the end of the level or when he dies. The player’s objective is to keep his strength as high and as long as possible to defeat the final boss.

The need N of the player is high, and he has to increase his strength P through bonuses and upgrades. Challenge expectation C is directly linked to P: weak when the player has no upgrade and strong when he acquires enough bonuses. The reward R is represented by a consequent increase of fire power and hence by the decrease of the difficulty.

Here are 3 examples of the management of the motivation commonly used that will well illustrate the PNRC mechanic and its advantages.

Score system:

The score system is a good way of how to manage the motivation. It is an integral part of a reward system, which allows both rewarding and confirming the success of the player (R). This goes from encouragement to applause, from score bonuses to experience points.

The player is rewarded by points and/or by ranking. The score determines the progression, and the bonus rewards the performance. The player creates a logical system where the game universe is organized and structured in form of point values. The difficulty of the challenge is measured by the number of points it brings and vice-versa. The player is then pushed to bigger and bigger challenges (C) in order to gain more points.

Key system:

The system is an additional layer of the challenge/reward mechanic. Challenges (C) are trials where in order to progress the player must first successfully finish previous trials. The principle is that the player is in front of a locked door and he needs a key to open it. In order to succeed in this challenge he needs first to find this key (N) which, however, is a reward (R) in a different challenge. The key then becomes both the need and the reward and thus increases the motivation to gain it.


Giving a choice to the player increases the possibilities of both the game and gameplay. Motivating is also used to increase the player’s chances to find what he is looking for (N). Being able to apprehend the challenge before the confrontation is an enormous advantage. The fact that the player can prepare himself for the confrontation (C) is in itself a very motivating element.

Also, having even a partial knowledge of the reward before the challenge is quite interesting. The player can avoid the frustration of discovering a non satisfying reward or he can strive to gain a reward (R) that motivates him.

I am talking about positive motivation that pushes the player forward to a feeling of accomplishment. However, there are opposite motivations based on negative characteristics as well, such as addiction, alienation, anger, frustration, etc. It can be interesting to exploit these feelings sometimes, for deeper needs, but to build a complete system based on this would be destructive. At the end, the player would be left feeling bitter and would be repelled by the game.

With score system, key system and multi-choice, the motivation loop is a loop of positive reinforcement that feeds itself. The player is immersed in the game and pushed forward. He will live through a motivating experience.

Duffy, J. (2006) GDC: Top 10 Video Game Research Findings Gamasutra (2645) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from

10. How does music impact a player’s effectiveness?
Number 10, by G. Cassidy et al., Glasgow Caledonia University, found the high emotional impact of music did not correlate to player effectiveness. However, when players picked their own soundtracks, their ability to succeed in the game increased and they become more emotionally responsive to the activity as well. McGonigal summarizes that “game music is not just about emotional impact or world-building. … Player success actually hangs on it.” Developers should consider thoughtfully how and when they use game music to support or challenge players, she says.

Cassidy, Gianna, et al. The Effects of Aggressive and Relaxing Popular Music on Driving
Game Performance and Evaluation. Digital Games Research Association International
Conference 2005. Read an excerpt:

9. What do players really think about voice chat and its usefulness in gameplay?

Number 9, by K. Hew, M. R. Gibbs, and G. Wadley of The University of Melbourne, uncovered aural feedback that players actually found disruptive, such as noise, speech not intended for them, and trash talk. Poor voice chat usability, in other words, hinders the players’ attempts to be social, subverting the very goal of voice chat. Consalvo explains that the research participants slowly could adapt to the ambient and distracting noises, but usually removed their headsets when the sounds became “too troublesome.” If developers choose to use voice chat, she advises it be targeted in a way that’s very specific to the game.

Hew, Kevin, Gibbs, Martin and Wadley, Greg. Usability and sociability of the Xbox Live voice
channel. Australian workshop on Interactive Entertainment 2004. Read it:

7. Does the presence of other players make an online game more or less immersive?
Using multi-player games such as Halo 2 for Xbox Live, City of Heroes, and EverQuest, the researchers of Number 7, C. Campanella Bracken et al. of Cleveland State University, discovered that “collaboration is an extremely powerful driver of emotional stickiness,” says McGonigal. The findings indicate (of gamers who played at least 12 hours per week) that players depersonalize their adversaries and do not feel a strong personal awareness of them. Player collaboration, on the other hand, resulted in the strongest sense of presence, meaning when gamers work together with other gamers, that’s when they have the greatest sense of community awareness.

Campanella Bracken, Cheryl, et al. Online video games and gamers’ sensations of spatial,
social, and co- presence. Future Play International 2005. Read it:

4. What strategies do gamers invent to communicate to other players in online games, and can games be better designed to support these strategies?

T. Manninen and T. Kujanpaa of University of Oulu, Finland, in the number 4 study looked at Battlefield 1942. McGonigal, strongly suggesting that developers read Manninen and Kujanpaa’s work in its entirety, is particularly fascinated by their area of research. This ethnographic study compiled data on how players gave cues to one another in the game and found players wanted to communicate in ways that the game did not support. Players wanted to coordinate with their teammates in ways that were not supported by the game mechanics. For example, players were unable to gesture to one another or make other non-verbal cues. They also could not interact with other players without violent physical contact. McGonigal notes that the workaround strategies players invent, such as pointing with weapons instead of pointing with hands or arms, are still limiting. Because players are already inventing ways to communicate in these alternative ways, McGonigal says developers need to seriously explore these possibilities to better meet their needs.

Manninen, Tony and Kujanpää, Tomi. The Hunt for Collaborative War Gaming – CASE:
Battlefield 1942. The Journal of Game Studies. 2005: 1. Read it:

3. Can alternative controllers, like eye tracking devices, offer a PC gaming experience that is more fun and involving than mouse control?

Number 3, conducted by Erika Jonsson at the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, found players enjoyed playing Half-Life more when they used an eye-tracking device combined with their mouse control. “Use of eye-tracking could be a successful addition to your game, provided it has a useful function and is properly play-tested,” says Consalvo. Participants in the study actually earned higher scores in the game when they used the eye-tracking device.

Jönsson, Erika. If looks could kill: An evaluation of eye tracking in computer games. Master’s
degree project, Royal Institute of Technology, 2005. Read it:

1. How do game events marking success versus failure affect a player’s level of engagement?

Failure is remarkably important to game players. That’s what Niklas Ravaj et al. from the Helsinki School of Economics found when they compiled their research. Using the game Super Monkey Ball 2 for GameCube, they examined how player success and failure affected the player’s level of engagement. McGonigal calls their findings “counter-intuitive,” noting the participants felt more pleasure and excitement in active failure than in success. Passive failures, on the other hand, leave players feeling less engaged. So the ways in which developers make failure possible—either active or passive—will have a significant effect on how players receive the game. “It didn’t matter that within the game [the players] were doing really terribly,” says McGonigal. “There’s a certain satisfaction of sending a monkey into space.”

Ravaja, Niklas, et al. The Psychophysiology of Video Gaming: Phasic Emotional Responses
to Game Events. Digital Games Research Association International Conference 2005. Read it:

Wilson, G. (2006) Off with their HUDs!: Rethinking the Heads-Up Display in Console game design Gamasutra (2538) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

“What is a HUD?” A HUD is simply a collection of persistent onscreen elements whose purpose is to indicate player status. HUD elements can be used to show, among many other things, how much health the player has, in which direction the player is heading, or where the player ranks in a race. This makes the HUD an invaluable method of conveying information to the player during a game. It is an accepted shorthand, a direct pipeline from the developer to the end-user.

However, millions of high-definition televisions have an Achilles heel that can hinder developers as well: burn-in. Burn-in can occur on different types of phosphor-based HDTVs, including plasma and traditional rear-projection units; it is caused by persistent onscreen elements that, over time, create a ghost image on the screen even after they are no longer shown. Hmm… persistent onscreen elements? Like a HUD? The short answer is yes—traditional HUDs can pose a risk to many who play console games for extended periods of time on their HDTVs.

Increasingly sophisticated home theater systems have helped create a sense of immersion for those that have them. More detailed graphics and more refined storytelling techniques can also draw a player into a rich and complex game world. However, nothing screams “this is just a game” louder than an old-fashioned HUD. It is not a part of the game world; it is an artificial overlay that is efficient, but often distracts the player from the environment in which he or she is immersed.

As video games attempt to reach new audiences beyond the core gamer market, developers are realizing the need to simplify interface design. While hardcore gamers might not be intimidated by numerous status bars and gauges onscreen, a casual gamer is much more likely to feel overwhelmed. Gamers looking for a “pick up and play” experience are not inclined to spend time figuring out what all those bars and gauges are for. The simpler and more intuitive the interface, the more accessible the game can be to non-traditional gamers.

So how do you replace the information provided in the HUD (in an FPL) (well presumably the article goes on to discuss this but my immediate reaction is to either have the player being able to pull out a PDA which provides this information or display it more subtly in images/clocks?/screens on walls in the space they are in – these wouldn’t be everywhere but frequent enough to keep them up dated. Another option would simply be to be able to turn the HUD on and off with an assigned keystroke.

Many elements found on a typical HUD are there not out of necessity, but out of convention; they represent a sort of “info overkill” that, for the vast majority of players, has no impact on gameplay at all. For every piece of information you offer the player, ask, “Is this information essential to the game experience?”

Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) provides a good example of eliminating one type of unnecessary information. Although the game does feature some elaborate HUD elements, it’s also notable for what it doesn’t feature: a visible health meter. It seems illogical for a first-person shooter to not include a health meter of some sort; and yet, the game plays beautifully, relying on a very simple and intuitive visual cue that warns the player when health is dangerously low: the screen periphery turns red and pulses.

In a racing game such as Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360), the “in-car” view during a race allows for an entirely immersive experience that also incorporates player information (such as speed) directly into the environment via the car dashboard.

In Doom 3 (Xbox), while a player’s weapon ammunition count generally shows up as an overlay in the lower right corner of the screen, weapons like the chaingun include the ammunition count as a readout directly on the weapon model. When designing a futuristic FPS, there’s no reason why a developer couldn’t just put an ammo count display directly on every weapon model from the get-go.

In a third-person game, player health and/or damage indication can be shown in ways other than through a health meter. In many survival horror games like Eternal Darkness (Gamecube), player health—both physical and mental—is clearly reflected in the player-character model’s onscreen appearance and movements. This can be accomplished through texture, animation, and even camera work. These indicators may not seem initially to be as precise as a counter or bar, but if players are given enough distinctive indicators, the process can become intuitive very quickly.

Another way to convey player status info is through audio cues. This is an often underutilized method that can either reinforce a visual cue or offer a unique message that is not easily shown visually. For example, in Halo (Xbox), when a player’s armor loses shield protection, an audio warning reinforces the flashing visual cue of the health status bar. This allows a player to know he or she is in imminent danger without having to refer to the HUD. In Project: Snowblind (PlayStation 2), if a player dawdles instead of advancing toward the location of an objective, non-player characters offer spoken dialogue that encourages the player toward the objective.

Since HUD elements are meant to convey player status information, one simple solution is to only show an element when the player status changes. For example, a health indicator does not generally need to be shown unless the player is either gaining or losing health. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Xbox) uses just such a health meter, to great effect. By the same token, God of War (PlayStation 2) features a HUD that disappears when the player is not near an enemy or performing an attack move.

The HUD elements that pose the most risk of burn-in are those that seldom change, such as graphical borders. These static elements also offer the least benefit to the player, since they are generally decorative and do not contain information relevant to the game.

Gee, J. (2004) Learning by Design: Games as learning machines Gamasutra (2056) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

So the question is: How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games?

Another answer that is not interesting, at least initially, is that some good games appear to be made only for people who are already adept game players. These games can be uninviting or frustrating for newcomers.

The answer that is interesting is this: the designers of many good games have hit on profoundly good methods of getting people to learn and to enjoy learning. Furthermore, it turns out that these methods are similar in many respects to cutting-edge principles being discovered in research on human learning

In the end, I have to admit, though, that I believe game designers can make worlds where people can have meaningful new experiences, experiences that their places in life would never allow them to have or even experiences no human being has ever had before. These experiences have the potential to make people smarter and more thoughtful.

Learning in Good Games

There are many good principles of learning built into good computer and video games. I list a baker’s dozen below.



Principle: Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).

Games: In good games, players feel that their actions and decisions-and not just or primarily the designers’ actions and decisions-are co-creating the world they are in and the experiences they are having.


Principle: Different styles of learning work better for different people. People cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work. At the same time, they should be able (and encouraged) to try new styles.

Games: Good games achieve this goal in one (or both) of two ways. In some games, players are able to customize the game play to fit their learning and playing styles. In others, the game is designed to allow different styles of learning and playing to work.


Principle: Deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested-whether this be a child “being a scientist doing science” in a classroom or an adult taking on a new role at work.

Games: Good games offer players identities that trigger a deep investment on the part of the player. They achieve this goal in one of two ways. Some games offer a character so intriguing that players want to inhabit the character and can readily project their own fantasies, desires, and pleasures onto the character. Other games offer a relatively empty character whose traits the player must determine, but in such a way that the player can create a deep and consequential life history in the game world for the character.


Principle: Cognitive research suggests that for humans perception and action are deeply inter-connected. Thus, fine-grained action at a distance-for example, when a person is manipulating a robot at a distance or watering a garden via a web cam on the Internet-causes humans to feel as if their bodies and minds have stretched into a new space. More generally, humans feel expanded and empowered when then can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness.

Games: Computer and video games inherently involve action at a (albeit virtual) distance. The more and better a player can manipulate a character, the more the player invests in the game world. Good games offer characters that the player can move intricately, effectively, and easily through the world. Beyond characters, good games offer the player intricate, effective, and easy manipulation of the world’s objects, objects which become tools for carrying out the player’s goals.


Well-Order Problems

Principle: Given human creativity, if learners face problems early on that are too free-form or too complex, they often form creative hypotheses about how to solve these problems, but hypotheses that don’t work well for later problems (even for simpler ones, let alone harder ones). They have been sent down a “garden path”. The problems learners face early on are crucial and should be well-designed to lead them to solutions that work well, not just on these problems, but as aspects of the solutions to later, harder problems.

Games: Problems in good games are well ordered. In particular, early problems are designed to lead players to form good guesses about how to proceed when they face harder problems later on in the game. In this sense, earlier parts of a good game are always looking forward to later parts.

Pleasantly Frustrating

Principle: Learning works best when new challenges are pleasantly frustrating in the sense of being felt by learners to be at the outer edge of, but within, their “regime of competence”. That is, these challenges feel hard, but doable. Furthermore, learners feel-and get evidence-that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress.

Games: Good games adjust challenges and give feedback in such a way that different players feel the game is challenging but doable and that their effort is paying off. Players get feedback that indicates whether they are on the right road for success later on and at the end of the game. When players lose to a boss, perhaps multiple times, they get feedback about the sort of progress they are making so that at least they know if and how they are moving in the right direction towards success.

Cycles of Expertise

Principle: Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew. Then they practice this new skill set to an automatic level of mastery only to see it, too, eventually be challenged.

Games: Good games create and support the cycle of expertise, with cycles of extended practice, tests of mastery of that practice, then a new challenge, and then new extended practice. This is, in fact, part of what constitutes good pacing in a game.

Information “On Demand” and “Just in Time”

Principle: Human beings are quite poor at using verbal information (i.e., words) when given lots of it out of context and before that can see how it applies in actual situations. They use verbal information best when it is given “just in time” (when they can put it to use) and “on demand” (when they feel they need it).

Games: Good games give verbal information-for example, the sorts of information that is often in a manual-”just in time” and “on demand” in a game. Players don’t need to read a manual to start, but can use the manual as a reference after they have played a while and the game has already made much of the verbal information in the manual concrete through the player’s experiences in the game.

Example: System Shock 2 spreads its manual out over the first few levels in little green kiosks that give players-if they want it-brief pieces of information that will soon thereafter be visually instantiated or put to use by the player.

Fish Tanks

Principle: In the real world, a fish tank can be a little simplified eco-system that clearly displays some critical variables and their interactions that are otherwise obscured in the highly complex eco-system in the real world. Using the term metaphorically, fish tanks are good for learning: if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system (e.g., Newton’s Laws of Motion operating in the real world) get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system (e.g., they begin to know what to pay attention to).

Games: Fish tanks are stripped down versions of the game. Good games offer players fish tanks, either as tutorials or as their first level or two. Otherwise it can be difficult for newcomers to understand the game as a whole system, since the often can’t see the forest because of the trees.

Example: Rise of Nations‘ tutorial scenarios (like “Alfred the Great” or “The 100 Years War”) are wonderful fish tanks, allowing the player to play scaled down versions of the game that render key elements and relationships salient.


Principle: Sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world. Using the term metaphorically, sandboxes are good for learning: if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment.

Games: Sandboxes are game play much like the real game, but where things cannot go too wrong too quickly or, perhaps, even at all. Good games offer players, either as tutorials or as their first level or two, sandboxes. You can’t expect newcomers to learn if they feel too much pressure, understand too little, and feel like failures.

Skills as Strategies

Principle: There is a paradox involving skills: People don’t like practicing skills out of context over and over again, since they find such skill practice meaningless, but, without lots of skill practice, they cannot really get any good at what they are trying to learn. People learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish.

Games: In good games, players learn and practice skill packages as part and parcel of accomplishing things they need and want to accomplish. They see the skills first and foremost as a strategy for accomplishing a goal and only secondarily as a set of discrete skills.

Example: Games like Rise of Nations, Goblin Commander: Unleash the Hoard, and Pikmin all do a good job at getting players to learn skills while paying attention to the strategies these skills are used to pull off. Rise of Nations even has skill tests that package certain skills that go together, show clearly how they enact a strategy, and allow the player to practice them as a functional set.


System Thinking

Principle: People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning. In fact, any experience is enhanced when we understand how it fits into a larger meaningful whole.

Games: Good games help players see and understand how each of the elements in the game fit into the overall system of the game and its genre (type). Players get a feel for the “rules of the game”-that is, what works and what doesn’t, how things go or don’t go in this type of world.

Meaning As Action Image

Principle: Humans do not usually think through general definitions and logical principles. Rather, they think through experiences they have had. You don’t think and reason about weddings on the basis of generalities, but in terms of the wedding you have been to and head about. It’s your experiences that give weddings and the word “wedding’ meaning(s). Furthermore, for humans, words and concepts have their deepest meanings when they are clearly tied to action in the world.

Games: This is, of course, the heart and soul of computer and video games (though it is amazing how many educational games violate this principle). Even barely adequate games make the meanings of words and concepts clear through experiences the player has and activities the player carries out, not through lectures, talking heads, or generalities. Good games can achieve marvelous effects here, making even philosophical points concretely realized in image and action.

When we think of games, we think of fun. When we think of learning we think of work. Games show us this is wrong. They trigger deep learning that is itself part and parcel of the fun. It is what makes good games deep. If games are to stay complex and yet sell to more and more people, then learning as a lens for game designers may be significant.
Kent, S. (2004) Manhunt to Mortal Kombat: The use and future use of violence in games Gamasutra (2056) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from
For people to get into the games, they need to be aroused,” says Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family. “People might not get aroused watching a boring basketball game; but if the game is back-and-forth, seesawing into the last minute, then there is all kinds of interest in that game. I think that arousal and engagement go together.”
Walsh, whose organization creates an annual videogame report card monitoring the progress and enforcement of the ESRB rating system, sees violence as one of the most potent ways to immerse players in games. “I believe that is why there is so much of it. I think that the thing that is lacking is the creativity that is needed to engage the player without resorting to the tried-and-true recipe of violence.”
When discussing violence in games, terms like “comic” and “cartoon” come up often. According to Vance, the violence in many of the T-rated games is cartoon-like. “I think of it as being like punctuation, like an exclamation point,” says Boon. “It’s not necessary for getting your point across, but it heightens things.”
Sylvester, T. (2005) Decision-based gameplay design Gamasutra (2264) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from
Decisions are ultimately what make a game. The only thing that separates gaming from books, movies, plays, and music is the element of decision-making.

Analysis of the best decision-making games reveals some interesting correlations between game fun and the type of decisions presented to the player. These correlations are:

1. More difficult decisions are more fun.
2. Decisions that have the most significant and tangible effects are more fun.

1. Difficult Decisions

Multi-player first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike are also excellent examples of decision-making gameplay. Like RTS games, they offer the player a continuous series of difficult decisions, and each decision has many equally-weighted sides. Common decisions include the following:

1. Should I reload now or later? What if the enemy comes around the corner while I’m reloading? But what if I run out of ammo while I’m fighting an enemy?
2. Should I move my position forwards, backwards, laterally, or not at all now? What if I get shot while I’m in between cover? But what if I lose because I don’t make my objective? But what if I get killed because I’m too far out front of my team? But what if the team mates covering the other entrance are killed and I get shot in the back?
3. Should I buy a weapon now? What if I run out of money when I need it later? But what if I die this round because I’m unarmed?

The specific circumstances of each individual match make every instance of these decisions unique. This uniqueness of every decision is what makes these games fun over the long term. Uniqueness is a sub-property of difficult decisions. In order for a decision to be difficult, it must be sufficiently unique. Each decision cannot have been made before; otherwise it is no longer a decision. If you present the player with exactly the same situation over and over, he will learn what the best thing to do is and thus the choice becomes easy. Easy choices are not really choices at all, any more than presenting an FPS player with a cliff edge is a decision point. The decision not to jump is a rather easy one, and thus not a decision at all.

Decisions must be unique to be difficult. The beauty of multiplayer games is that they can present millions of possible situations because there are so many possible interactions and situations between human players, and because human begins have so many unique, individual traits that make each opponent different. Interactions between multiple players add exponentially more complexity to the situation.

So, in order for a decision to be fun, it must be difficult, and in order to be difficult it must also be unique.

2. Tangible and Obvious Results

The process of designing a decision opportunity is not all a designer needs to do. The aftermath of a decision-making event is important as well. A player’s enjoyment of a game can be enhanced greatly by the amount and type of feedback that they receive from the game as a result of their decisions. This is why impressive explosion, gunfire and blood effects are important in FPS games, or why good puzzle games often include flashy effects to mark important events. Seeing an enemy die spectacularly is a reward for a decision well made, as is hearing the trumpet call at the end of a puzzle game well won.

Each decision can thus be evaluated not only on its difficulty and uniqueness, but by the power of the feedback that results from it. The same difficult, unique choice can be gratifying and interesting, or rather pedestrian based on the strength and tangibility of the feedback it produces.

There are many ways of delivering feedback to the player: visual, auditory, narrative, constructive, and so on. Some simple examples of feedback are the flashy effects that appear in puzzle games when the player makes points, the blood sprays in FPS games (though there is also a strong element of role-playing here), the accumulation of wealth or valuable items or character traits, the forward movement of a story or formation of an alliance, and so on. Feedback design is a well-developed and generally well-understood field of game design.

Multiplayer games, interestingly, have an inherent advantage when it comes to rewarding a player’s good decision. When someone else is on the other end of the line, winning a conflict comes with automatic positive feedback. Defeating a real live human being in any kind of contest, even anonymously over the internet, is a reward in itself. Good feelings associated with beating human opponents are a well-developed part of human biology. This, in addition to the uniqueness of human opponents, is one of the things that have made multiplayer gaming so compelling.

Decision Recognition, Evaluation, and Design

Game designers need to not only understand how decisions create a computer gaming experience, but also need to be able to create an experience that includes lots of unique, difficult decisions with strong feedback. Creating good decision-based games requires three abilities: The ability to recognize a decision point, the ability to evaluate how fun a decision is, and the ability to design fun decision-making play without compromising other aspects of the game (i.e. without requiring lots of new assets or making the game too complex and difficult to learn).

1. Recognition

The first step is to recognize all the decision points. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially in a well-designed game which presents decisions very frequently. When reading a design document, try to imagine playing the game. You are essentially emulating the gameplay in a very inaccurate way using your brain. Think about what’s going on, what you know, what you don’t know, the challenges being presented, and the rewards sought. Go through the gameplay, step-by-step, instead of imagining the gameplay in an abstract way, or only considering the most interesting parts. Skip nothing; what you skip will most likely be a boring decision void. Get a feel for how much real time everything is taking. Finally, while doing all of this, you must recognize the decision points as the design presents them. Develop a feel for how often decision points come up. If your game is based on gameplay, but isn’t presenting a lot of decisions, you have a problem and you need to re-evaluate some aspects of your design.

2. Evaluation

Once you have an idea of how many decisions the player is making, and what they are, you can begin by evaluating those decisions. Consider each decision point separately, and determine how difficult each decision is, and how likely it is to recur. If the decision is easy it is worth little. If it recurs a lot, it becomes easy and thus is worth little.

Each decision must also be evaluated in terms of cost of implementation. To implement a decision system takes a certain amount of time spent by members of the development team. Many decision-creating systems also suck up CPU cycles. Another very important cost that can be associated with a decision system is the complexity that it adds to the game. A game element that requires the player to know something, or have some skill, or at worst, bind and memorize a key or virtual button, is a game element that is costing something.

3. Design

Designing decisions is the trickiest part of the process, because the very nature of good decisions is that they cannot be directly defined. Decisions placed directly in the game will either recur too often and become non-decisions, or will only be seen a small number of times. An example of a directly-placed decision would be a situation where a player is presented with two separate attack routes which were both explicitly designed. One route will inevitably be more advantageous for any given player’s playing style. Once the player tries both routes, he learns which route is better. Thus, if the exact same routes are presented to him again, this becomes a non-decision, and the player’s brain becomes disengaged. All explicitly-designed decision points have this problem of staticity. The solution, of course, is to create a gameplay system that dynamically generates emergent decision points.

The goal with emergent decisions is to avoid explicitly defined decisions, and instead create a set of rules, characters, elements, and interaction rules, with a defined goal, such that interesting decisions will emerge from the system. Let me make this very clear: Game designers should rarely be designing decisions directly. The job of the game designer is to develop gameplay systems that present emergent decisions. Only emergent decisions can be unique over a long period of time. Static decisions cannot be relied on to provide gameplay interest, though it should be noted that they cannot be eliminated altogether.

If decisions aren’t part of your game, you should be making a movie.

Michael, D. and Chen, S. (2005) Proof of Learning: Assessment in Serious Games Gamasutra (2433) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

(Multiple choice questions) MCQs are not always the best choice, though. While MCQs can accurately gauge memorization and retention of a set of facts, they are hardly the best way to gauge whether the student is following a process correctly. This is a notable shortcoming because some disciplines, such as advanced math, are more about the processes used to reach the answer and less about the answer itself. Multiple choice math tests can only provide a list of possible answers and have no easy mechanism for determining whether the student figured the answer out properly or merely guessed well.

While a review of any collection of edutainment software reveals that MCQs can be easily tacked on to a video game, doing so does not take advantage of any of the features that make serious games compelling: engagement of the player, self-motivated progress through the material, and fun. Serious games represent an opportunity to move past this simplistic, narrowly focused type of testing. In fact, they can do so by combining other forms of traditional assessment with methods modern video games now use on a regular basis.

…even video games designed for nothing more serious than hour upon hour of mindless entertainment have a learning objective, at least at the beginning: teach the player how to play the game. These games also employ pass/fail mechanisms no less rigorous than many college entrance exams.

Tutorials present the player with the basics of how to control and interact with the game and then test the player on this information with a series of levels or missions. Tutorial missions often introduce only a few new game features or play elements at a time to avoid overwhelming the player. By the time the player has completed these first few missions, he or she has “learned” the essentials of the game and can be bombarded with ever greater in-game challenges. This process even continues past the tutorial, as later levels and missions in the game become more and more difficult.

Another form of assessment in entertainment games is scoring. Many games even offer comparisons between players with high score lists. These high scores can be a source of bragging rights for the player, but, more importantly, the scoring system teaches the player what is important within the game. A positive score indicates a good choice, a negative score a bad choice, and no score at all indicates that the attached action is probably unimportant. Though few classrooms stress the level of competition seen in most video games, the similarity to the posted test grades is unmistakable. In the same way, the education strategy of “teaching to the test” clearly identifies to the student what is important to learn and what can be ignored just like in-game scores do in entertainment games.

Both the medium of serious games itself and its newness create certain challenges that can make assessment difficult:

  • With less emphasis on rote memorization of facts, the assessment obtained from traditional methods may not accurately reflect the learning gained from serious games.
  • Open-ended simulations can support a wide range of possible solutions. Which one is more correct?
  • When teaching abstract skills such as teamwork and leadership, how do you measure learning and/or improvements?
  • What is “cheating” in the context of serious games?

According to Ferguson, too many people assume that any game will teach and be helpful regardless of the software’s actual capability. The core questions to ponder, he says, are:

  • How do you show that the students are learning what you claim they are learning?
  • How do you know that what you are measuring is what you think you are measuring?

Because serious games have such challenges, serious game developers have turned to more sophisticated assessment methods. Of note, there are three main types of assessment used in serious games:

  • Completion Assessment – Did the player complete the lesson or pass the test?
  • In-Process Assessment – How did the player choose his or her actions? Did he or she change their mind? If so, at what point? And so on.
  • Teacher Evaluation – Based on observations of the student, does the teacher think the student now knows/understands the material?
Unfortunately, the mere criterion of successfully completing the game falls short on a number of fronts. Besides the possibility of students cheating or exploiting holes in the system (a time-honored tradition in video games, but considered in a less positive light in classroom settings), it’s important to know whether the student learned the material in the game, or just learned the game and how to beat it.

In-process assessment is analogous to teacher observations of the student as the student performs the task or takes the test. In advanced math and science courses, for example, students are required to write out each step of the process they followed. Erasures are often disallowed in favor of drawing a line through incorrect steps and conclusions so that errors in the process can be more easily seen by the teachers. This is because the errors and corrections can be valuable indicators, sometimes more so than just giving the correct answer.

Serious games, or more specifically serious video games, offer logging and tracking potential that has seldom been available or even possible in traditional classrooms. Video games have long had logging features that allow players to replay their performance in the games. Modern games have even begun to learn from the player’s actions within the game, adjusting storylines, strategies, monster strength, and other variables to adjust to what the player has done and is doing. Serious games can take advantage of these features. For instance, Offshore Safety Initiative, located in Houston, Texas, performs detailed logging in its safety simulation software, tracking such data as:

  • Time required to complete the lesson;
  • Number of mistakes made;
  • Number of self-corrections made; and more.
Teacher evaluation is a combination of both completion assessment and in-process assessment. Despite the predictions (or fears) of some, serious games aren’t going to be replacing teachers anytime soon, and probably never. To that end, serious games should include tools to assist teachers in their evaluation of students. Such tools can include homework and assignment controls, grade tracking, reporting, and more. Like the process notes mentioned above, with detailed logging, properly presented, teachers can evaluate their students’ mastery of the material. The more data that is available, the less subjective that evaluation needs to be.
An important feature of this built-in assessment is the way the game adapts to the player’s behavior and gives the player the appropriate feedback. Players come to understand the connection between their in-game actions and the outcomes. Meanwhile, the teacher receives detailed assessment results to properly gauge the student’s progress. In addition, the assessment engine leads the student through a series of qualitative questions such as “You just choose to do X. What was your basis for this decision? Why did you not choose Y?” Thus, the teacher has a lot of information available to judge how well the student really does understand the material being taught.All of this creates what Corti calls “authentic learning.” Since the learning in the game is personally meaningful and relevant, the serious game provides the student with the opportunity to practice and apply skills needed in the real world.

Kane, B. (2003) 34 Ways to put emotion into games Gamasutra (2884) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

The key, says Freeman, is to recognize that emotional power is not simply a matter of writing good dialogue, but comes from integrating emotional content throughout the structure of a game

Emotioneering involves what he phrased “the artful application of exact techniques,” and said that being aware of these techniques early in the development process would enable writers, producers, and game designers alike to inveigh their games with the emotional complexity that is currently missing in the industry.

1. NPC Interesting Techniques. These are techniques which make (major) NPCs dimensional and fresh, and thus interesting. The key here is to give each major NPC between three and five distinguishing inner traits which define the ways in which they see, speak, think, or act.

2. NPC Deepening Techniques. These are techniques that give major NPCs emotional depth and complexity. Many of Freeman’s techniques are divided along this Interesting/Deepening dichotomy – a split that Freeman basically equated to “breadth vs. depth.” Breadth comes from having a diversity of traits; depth comes from the degree to which those traits are emotionally penetrating. Examples for this category included deep regret, hidden secrets, and inner wisdom.

7. NPC to NPC Chemistry Techniques. Techniques which, with very little reliance on dialogue, make it feel like two NPCs have “chemistry” – that is, that they belong together as friends or lovers. For instance, two characters might think the same way, get into little spats, or talk about each other fondly when the other isn’t around.

10. NPC Rooting Interest Techniques. These are techniques which make us “root for,” or identify with, a given character. Examples: NPCs that find themselves in danger, that perform acts of self-sacrifice, or that are members of the player’s own group, team, or party.

15. Emotionally Complex Moments and Situations. Ways to put the player in the middle of situations that are emotionally complex. (Example: you’ve created an outlawed robot killing machine, knowing you may have to fight your own creation later in the game.)

21. First-Person Deepening Techniques. Techniques which actually give the player more emotional depth by the end of the game. Branching pathways and multiple viewpoints have this effect.

Freeman, D. (2002) Four ways to use symbols to add emotional depth to games Gamasutra (20020724) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

Remember in Braveheart when Mel Gibson charged into battle holding a handkerchief his wife gave him before she was murdered? That handkerchief is a symbol. This article will explore four different ways to use symbols to evoke emotional response from an audience.

A big part of successful communication between a writer and his or her audience is writing outside of the audience’s conscious awareness. No one expects the game player to pick out every sound used in a game’s sound design, nor every instrument utilized in a piece of music, nor every tiny shadow. So too, an extraordinary amount of what a writer does is designed to affect a game player emotionally but not be consciously noticed. This article will focus on the use of symbols, which are almost always employed in a way so that they’re just on the edge, or preferably just outside, of a game player’s conscious awareness. A workable rule of thumb is that no more than 25 percent of the players who come upon a symbol should be consciously aware that it actually is a symbol.

Symbol Type #1: Symbol of a Character ’s Condition or Change in Condition

This use of symbols is what I call a scene-deepening technique, because you use it in a specific scene and might never use the same symbol again. Its use can be either visual or verbal, meaning that there must be either something visual on screen or something said by one of the characters that reflects what an on-screen character is going through emotionally.

Hypothetical game example #1
Let’s say we have a sword-and-sorcery game in which, during a fight to save some villagers, the wisest and most beloved village elder is killed. The villagers are stunned. A cloud could pass in front of the sun at that point, throwing a shad-ow over the village (during either a cinematic sequence or gameplay). The shadow would symbolize the villagers’ sadness — and perhaps yours as well, if you had found the old man endearing (and you would have, if the character was rich enough and the dialogue was compelling).

Hypothetical game example #2
After great effort and many struggles and bat-tles, you have attained the highest rank a warrior can attain. At that moment, an eagle flies diagonally overhead in the sky. It’s a symbol of your lofty achievement. It’s important to reiterate here that it doesn’t matter if no one consciously notices the impact of these symbols. They deepen the experience nonetheless.
Symbol Type #2: Symbolic SubplotUsually at least one of the characters (although sometimes more) in a story has what I call an emotional fear, limitation, block, or wound. Quite often, this person is the lead character, although not necessarily. In the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker had to learn who he was (a Jedi knight), Han Solo had to learn responsibility and how to act as a member of a group (instead of operating solo), Princess Leia had to learn to be vulnerable in love, Obi-Wan had to learn he could still make a difference, and C-3PO had to learn courage. Each of these characters was forced to confront their respective fears, limitations, blocks, and wounds (FLBWs, for short).

A character’s path of growth through his or her FLBW is a rocky one; quite often the character resists growing. A character’s path of growth through the FLBW is called a character arc.

Some writers insert a symbol into the story that represents the character’s arc. That is, as the character changes and grows, the symbol changes right along with the character. Therefore, a symbolic subplot is a plot-deepening technique because it continues throughout all or most of the plot (unlike the symbol of the character’s condition or change in condition, which occurs in a single scene or a small part of the plot).

Using this Technique in Games
Trying to build in a character arc for your player opens up a can of worms, because in a symbolic subplot, the changes in the symbol reflect the changes that your character undergoes as he or she progresses through the rocky path of his or her character arc. And how do you manage how a character goes through a character arc when that character is controlled by the game player?

This question takes us right to the cut-ting edge of story-based games. To explore all the ways in which game designers are tackling or could tackle this problem would be an article in itself, if not several.

Furthermore, it opens up another problem. On one hand, how do you tempt players into seeing themselves in a role and making decisions appropri-ate to that role? On the other hand, how do you allow players to play the game the way they want to play?

Symbol Type #4: A Symbol That Takes on More and More Emotional Associations

This is another plot-deepening technique, as it too tends to extend throughout an entire plot. It can be either a visual object or a verbal phrase. One symbol of this type is a very familiar one: the American flag. What does the flag mean? It means a lot of things: democracy; courage; the right to live the life you choose; freedom of speech and religion; a nation ruled by law; Yankee ingenuity; and more. Yet when we look at the flag, we don’t consciously think of all these things, we just experience the emotions that these associations evoke in us.

When a symbol reappears over and over again during emotionally charged moments, some of the emotion rubs off on the symbol, and the symbol thus takes on more and more emotional associations as the plot advances.

Johnson, B. (2001) Great Expectations: Building a player vocabulary Gamasutra (3052) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from

At the start of a game, we can make some basic assumptions about what the player knows. These assumptions can be based on everything from movies, books, and other games, to the way things work in reality. When a player hits a button to call an elevator, they expect the elevator to come to them so they can get on. If they jump off a high building they may take damage or die. If they stay underwater too long they may drown. The player comes to your game with a vast amount of knowledge that you can use.

As designers, we can carefully build a vocabulary of game mechanics and shape what the player knows about the environment, and when they know it. For example, when the player pushes a button to call an elevator, they simply expect the elevator to come to them so they can get on. This would be normal. However, you could imagine their surprise when the elevator suddenly comes crashing down with a group of screaming scientists on board. We get the element of surprise mixed in with a bit of humor creating a memorable experience for the player. More importantly, we’ve expanded the player’s understanding of what can happen in this environment.

Think of this little scenario: In one part of the game we introduce a simple hallway. In a section just after the hallway, we introduce monsters that drop down from certain types of ceiling tiles. Later, we introduce monsters that can break through closed doors. Now, can you imagine the feeling the player will have when they arrive at a long hallway that has the same grates on the floor, the same ceiling tiles that monsters have been known to drop from, and some doors where monster may be waiting to bash through? Think of the suspense that can be created in the player’s every step. This ability to manage and manipulate the player’s expectations is a powerful tool for a designer.

NPCs can commonly be used to provide player direction/goals, open doors, provide clues, develop the story, heal the player, serve as a hostage or an escort, join the player in combat, and even, at times, provide a good bit of comic relief. Each of these examples can be used on its own or in combination with other functionality to create interesting game scenarios.


Establishing numerous forms of resolution can also be a valuable part of the player’s vocabulary. Resolution can provide a sense of closure that can be used to let the player know when they are ready to move forward or when they’ve accomplished a certain goal.

If we place a complete set of objects (let’s use a set of armor as an example) in each thematic region of a level or game, the player will feel as though they have achieved a certain sense of resolution when they find each part of the set. Not only can this be used as a way of rewarding the player for exploring the areas thoroughly, but it also implies that they are ready to progress forward. The player has been taught that if they are missing a certain part of a set, there may be other parts of the world that they have not explored. We can further elaborate on the player’s expectations by providing some extra bonus that comes with having a complete set. It could be a good thing, a bad thing, or perhaps even a humorous thing. It’s up to the designer to make the choice and carefully craft the experience.

IGDA (2006) International Game Developers Association 2006 Casual Games White Paper retrieved June 8th, 2008 from

Casual Games: Games that generally involve less complicated game controls and overall complexity in
terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.

Hardcore, Core (Traditiona) Games: Games developed for and delivered on a dedicated game console
(set-top or handheld) as well as CD-ROM or DVD that generally involve more complicated game controls

When you are in the business of casual games, you are reaching virtually all demographic
sectors. Women in their forties comprise the typical casual game player – but so do men,
teens, kids, college students, seniors and international audiences. Even hard core game
players take a break every now and then to play free online poker games and online pool.

The term “casual games” is used to describe games that are easy to learn, utilize simple
controls and aspire to forgiving gameplay. Without a doubt, the term “casual games” is
sometimes an awkward and ill-fitting term – perhaps best described as games for everyone.
Additionally, the term “casual” doesn’t accurately depict that these games can be quite
addictive, often delivering hours of entertainment similar to that provided by more
traditional console games. To be sure, there is nothing “casual” about the level of loyalty,
commitment and enjoyment displayed by many avid casual game players – just as there is
nothing “casual” about the market opportunity and market demand for these games.

Generally skews older (35+), though casual game players can be found among college
students, teens, school-aged children as well as seniors.
While the gender break-down of casual game players can vary greatly from genre-to-genre
and even from game-to-game, the largest audience remains women aged thirty-five to fifty.
The proliferation and popularity of casual games has greatly contributed to an explosion of
women on the video game scene. Women comprise forty-three percent of all video gamers,
according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, up from thirty-eight percent in 2003 (Source: Pioneer
Press (, May 7, 2006).
Furthermore, a recent study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) puts
forth that there are more women gamers than males in the twenty-five to thirty-four age
range, with the average age being around thirty years. In this age bracket they say sixty-
five per cent of women play video games compared to only thirty-five percent of men.
(Source: New York
Times (
ae89714ecea&ei=5070), April 17, 2006.)
While the typical core gaming audience is male and aged eighteen to thirty-four, casual
gamers tend to be both women and men between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-five, with
a slight demographic skew towards women.
Gradually, the number of men playing casual games is increasing, but today’s market reality
requires a focus on female players.
Women represent the largest category of consumers for these games, although they may
also be buying these games for their husband, children, household or even as gifts.

Typical Gaming Patterns
The play patterns of each audience segment vary dramatically, with some female players
over the age of forty spending upwards of nine hours per week playing online games. These
long online play periods are often divided into small game sessions.  (Males spend 6.1 hours per week on average)

Pick up and drop games multiple times per day.
Relaxation, diversion, socialization and community are key drivers for casual game play as
opposed to overt competition.
This average play time is much lower than hardcore gamers’ title play commitment near
release, but is much higher than the mass-market retail gamers’ average play time.

Favorite Genres
•  Puzzle Games
•  Card or Solitaire
•  Light System Management
•  Casual Action
Primary Points of Access
•  Downloadable PC & Mac versions to play offline
•  Online play
•  Increasingly other gaming platforms (e.g., mobile, console)
•  A wide variety of users now see the Internet as a primary entertainment medium,
and casual games comprise a main staple of the entertainment value of the Internet.
As the audience for online content grows, so does the amount of money spent in the

Keeping the play and consumption patterns of this worldwide mass audience in mind,
successful casual games must:
•  Seem accessible to players with varying levels of familiarity and dexterity with
computer controls;
•  Engage players who may not be familiar with various game genres
•  Attract players by offering easy-to-learn games that are inviting and generally non-
•  Interact with players who are accustomed to user interface conventions from the
traditional retail market

3.  Characteristics of Successful Games
Features that are typically associated with community-based gaming include: chat, points
based rewards systems, prizing, persistence features, tournaments, ladders, message
boards and friend/buddy lists.

1.  Key Design Elements of Casual Games
1.1  Simple and Meaningful Play with Transparent Rules
At the heart of game design is the idea of meaningful play, the idea that players interact
with a game in ways that produce clear and purposeful results. What differentiates games
from other forms of media is that players engage the game’s system to change it in
meaningful ways. This idea of meaningful play is manifested in a number of ways in casual
games. First, there is the importance of understanding basic gameplay; players’ actions
must elicit clear and understandable responses. In a similar vein, it is important that the
rules of a game be transparent. Just as the basic interactivity needs to be entirely
comprehensible, so the rules of the game should also be at best intuitive and at worst easily
grasped by players. In even the most complex computer games, rulebooks are used only for
reference; most of the play is learned through experimentation and in-game instruction.
Similarly, a casual game’s rules should be intuitive and require no more than a one-screen
help or simple tutorial to thoroughly understand.
1.2  User Interaction
Many times in casual games much attention and focus has been shifted towards making
sure the game is attractive to the eye and utilizing animations and particle effects, however
it is essential that users are able to play the games by utilizing visual and audio cues within
the game.
Casual gamers will rarely go through a lengthy tutorial, and as we all know manuals are
useless, even for videogames. So as a developer don’t be discouraged if your game is
complex. First try to figure out if you can explain the game through various levels,
rewarding the user enough to keep them interested in the game. If you can’t break your
game into small chunks of interaction, then there could be something wrong in your design
for a casual audience.
This is what makes interface design so important. The concept can be summed up as – “The
user should always know what the next step is by just looking at the screen or know what is
happening by watching/listening to the game.” It is important to make a game attractive to
the eye, but if people cannot figure out how to play – they will stop.
Every game is different, so how to implement the visual and audio cues will always be
different. Visually – anything that is important to progressing in the game, such as the “next
logical step” should always “pop” in some way, especially if it is something outside of the
normal mode of play. If a game is designed correctly, users will quickly become accustomed
to how the game should be played. If a user needs to click something additional, they
should be prompted in some way. Blinking, throbbing, hi-lights and even an arrow pointing
at what to do next are easy visual clues as to what is happening. One trick some developers
use is to look away from the screen. When you look back, the first thing that catches your
eye should be the next thing you should do (i.e., click on).
Another good feature that developers have used is a “waiting user” prompt. If the user
should spend a period of time not doing anything, or not making progress, the game will
prompt the user in some way of what to do next.
The interaction between the user and the game should be limited to the computer mouse.
The use of the keyboard in a casual game is a big obstacle for users. Since the pace of the
casual game is usually relaxed, and the gameplay is easy, adding more than one device to
control the game makes people react negatively since having to remember and coordinate
keystrokes with mouse movements is something that is hard to do for those who are above
Use of buttons, where possible, should be limited to the left-mouse button. Use of the right-
mouse button is actually possible in casual games, but ideally it should be used for an action
that is not absolutely necessary. An example is the use of the right-mouse button occurs in
Zuma, where players can swap their current ball for another ball of a different color. Some
players will never use it, whereas  advanced players will have that ”expert”_option.
While designing the game, designers must combinesimple controls and and an easy-to-read
interface that simplifies the number of clicks that the player has  to accomplish an action. A
good example is the contextual interface in Plantasia: where when the player hovers over a
bug the cursor icon turns into an insecticide can.

1.3  Depth & Complexity
An important issue is the complexity of games. Considering the normal play periods of
casual games (short) and the game experience of the average players (limited), it is not
appropriate for casual games to have wildly complex systems that require careful, constant
attention and deep strategic thinking. A real-time strategy game with hundreds of units to
choose from, or a 3D world with miles of virtual space to explore presents an experience
designed to captivate a dedicated user for hours of intense play. However, many people
play casual games to take a relaxing break from work or to pass the time with something
engaging. This means that casual games should be based on simple core activity that leads
to emergent complexity. Initial access to the game should be easy, and the difficulty and
engagement of the game should come from doing that same basic activity in increasingly
challenging environments. In other words, the game should give the player a simple way of
interacting that becomes a rich experience in the game’s context.
More complex forms of interactivity, as the real-time strategy game mentioned above, often
have steep learning curves that run against the casual interests of the audience. This desire
for simple core interactivity has a number of implications. First, a casual audience is
generally not interested in memorizing complex macros or commands to understand a
game. Thus, casual games are predominately mouse-based, either exclusively or with
wholly optional hotkeys. When casual games do use the keyboard, it is almost always
limited to arrow keys and a single action key. Thus, the core activity of the game is also
fairly simple: clicking on a pair of grid squares to switch two objects, moving the mouse
over a deck to reveal a card, or dragging an item from a palette to a specific spot on a
game field. The complexity of the game comes from the way that simple interactivity
mechanic is used in the context of new levels and available resources (new things to swap,
new cards to see, new terrain on the field to negotiate).
In addition, the game should require very limited help to understand. Even more than other
kinds of games, casual games should not require players to read detailed instructions or
experiment extensively to grasp basic game concepts. Anything that is so complicated that
it requires more than a single page of simple help or (at most) a tutorial first level is most
likely too complicated for the market. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the
tropes that hardcore gamers have internalized are not part of many casual players’
vocabularies. This means that what may seem standard conventions to gamers (e.g. WASD
for movement, smashing crates to get health) will be lost on a large part of the casual
games audience. This is all the more reason why the basic gameplay must provide clear and
consistent feedback.

1.4  Rewarding Players
As part of the experience, a rich and varied reward system is very important to casual
gamers. The player’s main reason to play casual games is to get away from the worries and
frustrations of everyday life. Being constantly rewarded is a way to make the player feel
good about what they are doing.

Of course, the casual game designer shouldn’t confuse rewards with simplicity of play. The
game challenge should still be there, but the player should be notified of their good deeds
as the progress through any game challenges. Bonus points for specific actions, awarding
combos, and themed player ranks have been common reward resources in casual games.
Rewards are also related to the optional depth that can be added into the game (see the
Optional Depth section for more info).
Overall, increased rewards for successful actions and reduced penalties for early mistakes
are key components to making a successful game for the casual games market. The
consumers driving this market generally do not see themselves as “gamers” looking for a
deep challenge. Often, they are looking for an immediately fun and positively rewarding
entertainment experience similar to the benefit one receives when tuning into a trusted
primetime TV show that provides a mental escape with a minimal learning curve.

1.5  Showing Progress
Rewards will not be relevant if there is no place in the game where progress is represented.
Probably one of the most important elements of any game is the score as this is a key
motivation factor for many games. If the game is score-centric, anything that either adds to
or takes away from the users score should be point blank obvious. Users should
immediately know when they have done something good and their score increases, or when
something bad happens. Even if the game is not score-centric or there is some other kind of
task that is necessary for a user to complete to move ahead in the game, accolades should
always be represented with some kind of positive audio cue.

.6  Forgiving Game Play
Casual games should be very forgiving, particularly in the early part of the game. The game
should not punish players too harshly for initial mistakes, and should give new players time
(whether it be in early levels or beginner’s modes) to learn the core interactivity. The grace
period can last quite far into the game, with the difficulty only ramping up well into the
experience. Consider that the majority of this audience prefers games such as Bejeweled
Easy Mode, which is very difficult to lose unintentionally. Difficulty should be less of an
obstacle that players must struggle to overcome than a natural growth that matches the
player’s increasing expertise of the game. 1.7 Visuals and Themes
Keeping the audience in mind, the visual design in a casual game could vary depending on
the target audience. The game designer should ask first who is going to play the game
before deciding on a particular theme or visual style.
Successful casual games have historically relied
on themes that that players are familiar with.
Games that are based in real life environments
(e.g., Cinema Tycoon) give players a sensation of
a familiar environment. Other themes that casual
players are familiar with have been portrayed
successfully in popular Hollywood films – magic
(Lord of the Rings) or exotic places (Indiana
Jones) are some examples. Contrary to popular
belief, sci-fi movies are not as popular across
mass audiences. Casual Game designers should
stay away from sci-fi themes in their games.

Many downloadable, single-player games take the path of a “realistic” look. But some have
started to have cartoon-like looks (e.g., Diner Dash). The key is to not make the player feel
they are playing a game for kids. Contrary to puzzle games in arcade machines in the 80s
(e.g.,  Pengo), since most downloads get purchased by an older audience players in general
get put off by “cute” characters or visual elements that make the sensation of watching a
Saturday morning cartoon. Exceptions to this case tend to gravitate towards those games
who have a realistic theme (e.g., Cake Mania) or have UI and supporting graphics with a
mature look (e.g., Chuzzle).
When it comes to online web games, the choice of themes and visuals tend to be different.
Since the age range of web game players goes across the board, there are all kinds of visual
themes used successfully. It will depend on the web site’s audience mostly. Sites like
Cartoon Network,, and to a big extent NeoPets target younger players and hence
cartoon like visuals are the norm and work very successfully.
Use of bright and shiny colors, appropriately used, is a plus. Even some special effects (i.e.:
the use of particle systems to create an explosion of stars when an award is given) have
worked well in some games.
1.8 Narrative and Characters
Any discourse on story and character (and by extension, narrative and metaphor) in casual
games, ought to probably be prefaced by a brief acknowledgement of the challenges our
larger industry faces in brokering the thus-far awkward marriage between interactive
entertainment (including console or “core” video games) and compelling narrative (including
story telling and character development).
There are numerous books and courses available on story-telling, character development
and approaches to narrative structure. Many of these focus on writing for film, television
and fiction. There are some on comic book writing, a few for games, but next to none on
casual games. When folks do discuss storytelling’s dance with video game design, inevitably
they bemoan the lackluster job we as game designers have done (to date) of seamlessly
integrating story and interactive play. But the common wisdom is that, as a relatively new
medium, video games are still getting their sea legs when it comes to sophisticated
approaches to story telling, defining a compelling character or, more famously, of moving a
player to tears.

The question is, where do Casual Games fit into this larger polemic? Do we operate under
the same rules and are we wading through the same challenges as core game designers?
Or, are the idiosyncrasies of casual games and their non-hard-core-gamer audience going to
liberate the casual game designer and give him or her a uniquely advantageous position at
the cutting edge of elegantly interpolating story and interactivity?
i  Does a Casual Game Even Need a Story?
Not all successful casual games have needed story and character. After all, isn’t gameplay
everything? Who cares about story? Why add characters? Why add story? It costs more,
right? And it’s hard!
Sure, a game has to have good gameplay or you’re sunk. But here are some reasons it may
just be worth the effort:

•  Artistic merit. If video game-making is an artistic medium, we should be able to use
it for all kinds of self expression, especially story telling.
•  Story and character are tools for entertaining, for touching people’s hearts, for
making an emotional impact beyond the mechanics of the game, beyond a high
score, a game’s interactivity or its puzzle.
•  The value of character IP. Additionally, as our industry matures the opportunity to
build character I.P. has obvious financial upside. i.e. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.
•  Great Narratives create strong brands. From Charles Dickens’ Victorian masterpieces,
to today’s Sopranos or Lost, serialized fiction is infamous for sucking in its audience
and keeping them coming back to find out what happens next. For Casual Games
especially, where a thirty to sixty-minute free trial often stands as an obstacle to a
purchase, the use of story might just be the holy grail of conversion, motivating
users to keep playing.

Casual Gamers love Aztec themes, right?
A rich game metaphor provides back-story, defines the play environment, adds a compelling
motive to the player’s game goals, and gives the user a deeper feeling of immersion into
the experience. What’s different here about the casual game audience? The story goes that
as video games first began to explore narrative themes, the game-making community chose
themes that appealed to game makers. Thus the over-saturation of spaceships, robots,
archeological tomb hunters, elves and dragons that blast, shoot, swing or roar their way
through the game players’ imaginative landscape.
Casual games have for the most part
trodden the same narrow territory – space
ships, aliens, and elves all make their way
to the casual game landscape. When you
throw in ancient archeological lost city
themes like Mesoamerican (Incan, Mayan
or Aztec) and ancient Egyptian, you’ve
covered about half the casual games out
there. But over the last two years we’ve
seen games emerge that explore broader
narrative themes and more everyday
characters. We’ve seen successful games
like Insaniquarium, Huntsville Mystery
Case Files, Diner Dash, QBeez2 and
Granny in Paradise, all borrowing from
popular themes in prime-time television.
Will your casual game’s story and
characters appeal to the casual game
market (many of whom are adult women)?
If you’re thinking about a game with
dungeons, bloody battles, spaceships and
robots, you might be going down the
wrong path.

iii  Rules for creating a compelling story
It’s worth noting that a good deal of the following may be subjective. Not all stories work by
the same rules. Not all stories will benefit from the same approaches. This section therefore
may prove more subjective than say, the section on publishing or distribution models, but
here goes. As a game designer there are a host of rules to follow or break as you see fit
when telling a story in a casual game.
What’s so different about casual games? The main difference is the audience. Whereas in a
core game, the audience may forgive bad dialogue, poor character development or no story
at all in exchange for super cool graphics and hi-tech themes like shooting rampages,
battling droids or half-clothed bikini elves, the audience of casual games is made up of
many non-hard-core gamers and the bar for entertainment quality is set not by other
games, but by television and film.
Here are some often cited oft maligned rules of thumb for story telling in casual game
•  Immersion. Create the illusion that the player is in the story world. Take care not to
shatter that illusion.
•  Keep the technology invisible. Don’t remind players they are on a computer.
Immerse the user in the narrative world.
•  Don’t break the fourth wall. Try to avoid breaking the fourth wall (the wall between
the characters on stage and the audience – thus avoid lines like “Hello there player!
Use the mouse and click and drag that item over here!” – or “type on your
•  Respect the player’s imagination. You don’t need to tell the user every detail. They
will enjoy the interaction more if you let them participate in how the story emerges.
•  Allow for closure. Visual theorists call it “closure” when an artist lets a viewer fill in
the gaps of a broken circle or on what happens between panels of a comic book. As a
story teller, you don’t need to tell every detail of your whole story. Allow the user to
fill in the blanks with his or her imagination.
•  Start as deep in as possible. Start the story as deep into the narrative as you can,
allowing the player to fill in the blanks.
•  Waste not, want not. With small file sizes and small budgets, typically you can’t
afford extensively animated cut scenes or tons of casted and recorded character
dialogue. But big budgets and big file sizes don’t always mean good story telling.
•  Less is more. Brutally edit your dialogue. Write a script for scene, then cut it in half –
then take a breath and cut it in half again. It’s cheaper and it’s likely that your story
will be more interesting if less is revealed. Most players don’t want to read. If your
game has a comic book page, can the player get the gist of the story just by looking
at the artwork and not reading any text?
•  Naturalism. Save time in writing and casting. Go for naturalism in your casting,
dialogue writing and directing. People are used to standards set by television and
film. No one wants to listen to an overacted set of affected lines read in a deep
hoarse throaty manner. No matter how evil it makes your character sound.
•  Action is key. Never tell when you can show. Avoid talking heads with lots of
exposition. If you need the characters to convey to the player some information, can 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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you convey it within a dialogue as the players are scaling a wall, or climbing a tree
or…? Animation is expensive, can you use comic strips instead of animated cut
scenes? If you’re going to animate make sure it’s interesting – ask yourself if it’s
really worth animating?
•  Rely on Audio. Audio is typically cheaper than animation as a tool for storytelling.
Sometimes music, voice and audio sound effects to help immerse, set a mood tell
the story. A story is different from a list. If you’re going to tell a story in your game,
keep in mind that a good story is not just, “first this happened, then that happened,
next a third cool thing happened.”
•  Foreshadow. A good story has narrative structure, offers thoughtful foreshadowing
during early stages of the narrative to set up expectations.
•  Use a “Third act twist”. A good story then plays with or twists those expectations
(usually in the “third act” or final act of the game).
•  Seamless integration. Maybe the hardest part: Can you weave interactivity and story
around each other without making the story feel contrived or tacked on as an
afterthought? Playing the game should feel like you’re making the story unfold
further. Can the story change depending on the player’s choices?
iv  Defining Characters: Some starting points.
Do you know who your character is? Knowing who your character is will make it much
easier to write natural dialogue and compelling stories. Take the time to define your
characters’ back story, their likes and dislikes, family history, strengths and flaws. Their pet
peeves. Their quirks and catch phrases. If you do this right, you will know much more about
your character than you ever will be able to tell in a small file game but it will make the
dialogue flow freely if you can really channel your character and see into their inner world.
Ways to evaluate the strength of a character:
•  Do you care about you character? A lot? If you don’t care about who your character
is, then don’t expect the player to care who he or she is!
•  Draw on what you know. Don’t just add a character because you think you need one.
•  Draw on your own experiences and your own world to create more believable
characters that people will care about and understand.
•  Is your character someone with whom players can identify?
•  Is your character aspirational? Someone players might identify with or aspire to be?
•  Work with your artist. The character artwork should tell you as much as possible
about that character (while avoiding stereotypes).
•  Test it! What we think is appealing may not be appealing to our audience. Draw out
multiple versions of your characters and run them by potential players.

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constraints provided by a casual audience for new play styles, both as modifications of tried-
and-true genres or as more dramatic experimentation.2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.9  Other Arcade Variants


This genre includes a variety of traditional arcade-style gameplay.

•  Cosmic Bugs (Retro64)
•  Gold Miner Vegas Edition (Intermix Media)
•  Tropix (Super Robot Brain)
Popular Other Arcade Variants:

Gold Miner Vegas Edition (Intermix Media)

Cosmic Bugs (Retro64)

While this list is by no means exhaustive, even a glance at the games available in the casual games
marketplace reveals a preponderance of games that fit within this handful of categories. There is also a
strong degree of overlap among the games within a single category, such that many games have nearly
identical mechanics and are only differentiated by narrative context and visual style. In fact, there is a
deluge of derivative games in the casual game market that seek to capitalize on the success of a proven
mechanic. As the casual game industry grows, new game play, design and genres will emerge and
evolve to the next level.
2.10 Innovation beyond the Tried-and-True
Innovation in the casual games field must still adhere to the principles of user interactivity
and audience expectations as described in the previous sections. The casual gamer is simply
a different user group than the hardcore gamer, and the kinds of experimentation and
approaches that appeal to the latter may not be successful with the former. Of course, there
have been examples of games that have provided different gameplay styles that have also
been successful in the casual game market. “Diner Dash” and “Tradewinds” are both games
that have previously unseen gameplay for casual games. They both have been commercially
successful. Web-only games have seen even more radical experimentation. Games such as
Grow (, Samarost
(, and Squares 2
( all demonstrate the ways Web-only games
can push the boundaries of typical play patterns. Thus, there are possibilities with the 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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Popular Examples of Card & Parlor Games:

Ancient TriPeaks (ToyBox Games)

Mahjong Garden to Go (Pogo) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.7  Casual Sports Games


Simple sports games that are very forgiving and generally accessible to the widest
audience possible in terms of game controls and game objectives.


•  Backspin Billiards (Pixelstorm)
•  Redline Rumble 2: Detonator (Atom Entertainment/Richard Smith)
•  Saints & Sinners Bowling (Large Animal Games/Oberon Media)
Popular Examples of Casual Sports Games:

Redline Rumble 2: Detonator (Atom Entertainment/Richard
aints & Sinners Bowling (Large Animal Games/Oberon
2.8  Card & Parlor Games


This genre includes a variety of traditional playing-card games and parlor game


•  Ancient TriPeaks (ToyBox Games)
•  Mah Jong Escape: Ancient China (Playtime)
•  Mahjong Garden to Go (Pogo)
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Popular Examples of System Management:

Cake Mania (Sandlot Games)

Fish Tycoon (Big Fish Games)
2.6 Break-Out Variants


The player controls a paddle, and uses the paddle to ricochet a ball into a set of
blocks. The goal is to clear the screen of blocks. Power-ups alter the core game in a
few ways including speeding up and slowing down the ball, making the paddle sticky,
or increasing the number of balls on the screen.


•  Bricks of Atlantis (ArcadeLab)
•  Magic Ball 2: New Worlds (Alawar Entertainment)
•  Shattera (Alexey Saenko)
Popular Examples of Break-Out Variants:

Bricks of Atlantis (ArcadeLab)

Shattera (Alexey Saenko) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.4 Shape Manipulation


Players are presented with a empty container divided into different shapes, and a
series of pieces that can fit into that container. The player’s goal is to fill up the
container by picking up, rotating, and placing pieces inside the contact so that no
pieces overlap and no empty spaces remain.


•  Mosaic: Tomb of Mystery (Reflexive)
•  Puzzle Express (Hipsoft)
•  Runic One (Puzzle Lab)
Popular Examples of Shape Manipulation:

Mosaic Tomb of Mystery (Reflexive)

Runic One (Puzzle Lab)
2.5 System Management


The player is put in charge of a small ecosystem of objects that interact in a variety
of ways. The player may add, remove, or alter objects in the system to create
particular effects and thus earn points.


•  Cake Mania (Sandlot Games)
• Plantasia (gameLab)
•  Fish Tycoon (Big Fish Games)
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Magic Match (Codeminion/Oberon)

QBeez 2 (Skunk Studios)
2.3  Finding Subsets II (Word Games)


A notable specific case in this genre is the word game. In this case, the rules of the
game’s language determine a correct set. Points are often given for correctly spelled
words, with greater rewards being credited to players who spell longer words and/or
words with rarer letters.


• Acropolis (Gamehouse)
•  Babel Deluxe (Zylom)
•  Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters (U-Click/Playtonium)
Popular Examples of Finding Subsets II (Word Games):

Acropolis (Gamehouse)

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•  Shape Manipulation
•  Casual Sports Games
•  Break-Out Variants
•  Card and Parlor Games
2.1 Matching Games


Players are faced with a grid of a limited variety of objects. The objective of the game
is to swap, drag, shoot, or transform these objects to create sets of two or more,
which then disappear for points. These games often contain “power-up” objects that
clear larger parts of the grid or award bonus points for sets including them.

•  Chuzzle (PopCap Games)
• Luxor (MumboJumbo)

•  The Da Vinci Code (Sony)

Popular Examples of Matching Games:

Chuzzle (PopCap Games)

The Davinci Code (Sony)

2.2  Finding Subsets I (Puzzle Games)


Players are given a number of objects, a timed end point manifested as a clock, and
sometimes a steady increase in the number of objects. The player’s role is to find
sets within the field objects based on a particular criterion (similar color, shape, etc.).
Correctly finding and selecting these sets earns the player points and either delays
the end point or advances the user to the goal.


•  10 Talismans (NevoSoft)
• Magic Match (Codeminion/Oberon)
• QBeez 2 (Skunk Studios)
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Additive and
Subtractive Music
Another musical adaptive technique when the music is split
out (i.e. melody, rhythm, chords) is to add and remove parts
directly based on gameplay.
SFX Customization  Another unique way to deliver personalized gameplay
experience is to use things like dialog synthesis to relay the
persons score in real time.
With randomization it’s important to remember that randomization should be placed in
areas where the user expectation is low. Many events need a specific sound effect that
never changes because it’s so integral to the game experience and to do so would confuse
the player. Usage of randomization in key places might confuse the player.
The unique nature of the casual market also
allows composers and sound designers with
break boundaries with their approach to
themes and genres. Since there is typically a
shorter chain of approvals in casual game
development, it’s easy to push though new
and interesting genres of music that have
never been heard in a game before.
Unexpected genres are commonplace in the
industry including music from the 50′s
golden age of TV, modern, abstract,
cartoony, early 80s, Star Trek, therimins,
whatever. The ability to break out of the
normalcy allows a game to find an audience
because it is unique and unusual.

Luxor: Amun Rising (MumboJumbo) uses a musical
score appropriate to the Egyptian theme of the
As with the other areas of game development, technology and size will inform and
sometimes limit the amount of things that are possible with audio. Many technologies and
middleware have specific constraints as to what is possible with music. See the technology
section of this white paper for additional notes on sound technologies.
2.  Game Mechanics
The contributing factors of distribution, technology, and audience have shaped the current
casual content offering. It is for these reasons that the casual gaming industry does not
consist primarily of first-person shooters and tactical simulations. Instead, genres have
emerged that address the needs of the casual games market.
As mentioned in the introduction, casual games have been largely dominated by a
surprisingly small number of game play styles. Puzzle games make up the largest single
group, followed closely by a variety of simple arcade games, word games, and classic card
and board games. Within these larger genres, most casual games segment further into a
handful of specific types.
The following game mechanics are discussed in this section:
•  Matching Games
•  Finding Subsets I (Puzzle Games)
•  Finding Subsets II (Word Games) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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The following table illustrates the many areas where sound adds value to a game.
Use of Sound  Description
Game Environment
and Narrative Context
Similar to a visual backdrop, music and sound effects can
add emotional and contextual elements to the game. Usually
this is done through music, but sometimes through sound

User Interface  Typically these are just simple rollover, navigation, and click
feedback events that are in line with the overall theme of the
Game Interface  These are similar to the UI but are in game event related.
This is a good place for some elements of randomization if
Game Feedback
Sound effects usually accompany scoring and reward events,
as well as any negative feedback in the game.

Easter Eggs and
These elements help to engage users over the long term.
Surprises with the audio can be an inventive way to keep the
game fresh and new with content.
Music as a Gameplay
Occasionally the music itself is a gameplay element; this is
most obvious in a rhythm-action game, but also could mean
that at the end of a level the music branches to warn the
Largely due to size and budgetary constraints, the biggest challenge of audio is avoiding
repetition in gameplay. Randomization techniques and other adaptive strategies should be
used to increase replay ability.
The following table illustrates some examples of additional audio techniques used in casual
Technique Description
Random Music and
Narrative Based
Music Branching
Music is usually broken into small two- to eight-bar chunks
that are placed end to end randomly or in some strategy
that fits the gameplay. These branches can be tied to
gameplay elements, when you move on to the second part in
a level branch to this music seamlessly.
Sound Effects (SFX)
SFX that either cycle through a playlist or randomly pick
from a list is sometimes used for game and UI events.
Split Track Music
Music can sometimes be broken down in a way that allows
the game to change one part while the other continues. For
instance having the rhythm split out from the melody might
allow you to save not only space but allow the parts to
change randomly for more variation in your game.
Real Time Tempo
Increasing the tempo during parts of the game might be an
effective way to increase emotional tension, and add
excitement to the game. 1.7  Using Sound and Interactive Audio to Enhance Gameplay
Sound can make a powerful addition and perceived added value among casual game
consumers. Audio can add emotional context for a player to excite and involve them in the
game. Because of the repetitive nature of casual game play as well as typically less
narrative content than a console title, audio is an area that allows developers to keep the
gameplay fresh and interesting as the game progresses. Audio is typically broken down into
three categories:
•  Music
•  Sound Effects
•  Dialog
Most games in the casual game space have at least some basic set of sound effects and

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McGrath, D. and Hill, D. (2004) UnrealTriage: A Game-based Simulation for Emergency Response Institute for Security Technology Studies, Dartmouth College. Retrieved 31st May 2008 from

McGrath and Hill describe the process they went through in developing an emergency response simulator using the Unreal Tournament game engine – from design to development and some of the issues they confronted along the way – something which seems not a million miles away from what I’m trying to do.
(Perhaps less simulationy but there are still a number of commonalities)

“The simulation involves multiple
emergency response players at the scene of
a small airplane crash with 30 casualties.
The player objectives developed thus far
consist of fire suppression and primary
triage. Players must locate and categorize
the casualties into one of four treatment
categories. The victims are tagged as red
(immediate), yellow (urgent), green
(delayed), or black (fatally wounded). For
the game environment, a terrain model
(map) based on a real-world airport was
created from digital elevation data, satellite
imagery, and local engineering data. The
Karma physics engine, which is part of the
Unreal distribution, was used to define
object behaviors such as fire hose

This is a great example of the usefulness of games in learning – particularly simulations – because they allow you to recreate situations that would either be expensive or dangerous.

“Synthetic environments can
enhance tabletop and command post
exercises by providing an objective,
dynamic, virtual world containing
simulated but adequately realistic people,
objects, and events. Emergency response
technologies can be prototyped and
evaluated using synthetic environments as
well, by providing a safe, virtual “proving
ground” for new technologies. The same
synthetic environments could be used to
develop training systems.”

They discuss the process of using the Unreal Tournament editor and working with APIs and plug-ins for other tools – something I’m avoiding so far for the large part with FPS Creator. There is also a reasonably detailed technical description of the technical process they went through in modelling the actual terrain of a New Hampshire airport for the game.

“First person shooter games are organized
around “levels”, with the idea that a player
will complete the objectives of one level,
and then move on to another level with a
new environment and challenges. In each
level, players move through the
environment “picking up” weapons, health,
and ammunition. Multiple players can
move through levels, interacting with the
environment, objects, other players, and
non-player characters (NPCs).”

It’s interesting to note that they have had to deal with some of the same issues that I have – namely trying to convert a tool/engine designed for making “shooter” games to another purpose.

The assumptions made by the designers of
the game engine tend to dictate the
available choices of mod developers. For
example, the easiest way to represent a fire
hose nozzle is to model it as a weapon that
“destroys” a fire, since the game engine is
based on the assumption that players carry
and fire weapons. It is counter-intuitive to
think of a fire hose as a weapon, but within
the constraints of the game world this
makes perfect sense.

Other unique issues arise in this regard as well:

“However,  the  interaction with  the  nozzle
“weapon”  has  been  problematic.
Specifically,  the  hose  should  be
constrained by  its attach point on  the  fire
truck and by the position of the firefighter
holding  the  nozzle.   Likewise  the
firefighter’s motion  should  be  limited  by
the  length and properties of  the  fire hose.
This  complex  interaction  has  proven
difficult,  in  large  part  because  player
motions  are  not  normally  constrained  by
the “weapon” they carry.”

In looking at further developments of the game, they are considering the need for cooperative play to simulate the process of carrying stretchers – a task sometimes undertaken by 4 people at once. (Good luck with that one :) They are also mindful of the AI of NonPlayer Characters (NPCs) by using them in a simulation for management of the emergency scene:

Improved NPC intelligence could include
two-way communication between players
and bots. More intelligent NPC behavior
will allow some of the first responder roles
to be performed by “rescue bots” and
allow actual players to act as scene
commanders. This will enable command
post exercises, where scene commanders
observe the scene, interact with rescue
bots, and help incident command build
situational awareness through normal
communication channels

Overall, they seem to have developed a pretty good understanding of what they are working with.

“Benefits include low user
cost, impressive graphics and sound,
accessible networking protocols, and built-
in scorekeeping for after action review.
Limitations include the significant
modeling and AI tasks associated with
character development, and the constraints
of the weapon/shooter paradigm which is
the foundation of most first person shooter
games. A relatively newer gaming
paradigm, the massive multi-player online
game, is founded on the idea of synthetic
economies and more peaceful interactions
between players, and may be a more
promising platform for simulation
development as it matures.

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