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  • What Every Game Designer Should Know About Human Psychology

    [02.25.21]
    - Michael Moran
  • From door handles to coffee mugs to fighter jet cockpits, User Experience shows up in everything you interact with.

    Every human-made object has been designed, based on either what will be easier for the user or what was easiest for the manufacturer. (Whenever using something feels frustrating or confusing, you can be sure it was the latter!)

    But what about the concept of User Experience in the world of video games?

    When our brains process something as complex as a video game, there's a lot going on. Understanding the role that psychology plays within the science of game development is crucial to creating memorable and engaging games.

    In this article, we'll summarize the importance of understanding psychology while crafting the user experience of a video game.

    We'll touch on subjects such as the importance of play-testing, employing affordance in your games, how to use psychology to create usability and engageability, and the role of the "Gestalt" theory in game design.

    Why Design Should Always Focus On The User

    When the design is focused on the perspective of the user, a product becomes much more practical, desirable, and useful.

    A great example of this dates back to fighter pilots during WWII. Exhausted and under pressure, these pilots had a high rate of human error and were at risk of accidentally pushing the wrong button on the dashboard of their aircraft.

    Image for post
    WWII Spitfire Cockpit

    Unfortunately for them, dashboards were not consistent between aircraft. This meant the pilots had to learn a new set-up every time they switched planes.

    This made it even more likely that they would press the wrong button. Therefore, standardized cockpits needed to be developed which would improve the user experience for these pilots.

    This type of thinking can also be applied to video games, ensuring that the design of the game is centered around the user experience. Therefore, by understanding the psychology of the user, you'll be better able to make design decisions tailored to their needs.

    It's also important to remember that there is no such thing as a neutral design. Everything we design will  influence people to use it in one way or another .  This is an important ethical issue to consider, especially when certain retention mechanics can create addictive behaviors and punish disengagement .

    The Importance of Play-Testing

    Every user is different and  our perspective depends on our experience , our history and what is important to us. When designing video games for different types of users, it's not possible to know in advance what every user will bring to the experience. That's why it's essential to have a diverse team of designers with different backgrounds.

    That's also why video game designers "play test" their games. This tests how the game is perceived by the people who will actually be playing it. With this method designing a game becomes  a cycle of action and iteration .

    Designers create a game, then test it to see if it is accomplishing what they wanted to achieve. If insight from audience testing finds the game lacking, it's back to the drawing board to refine with more information. Then the game is tested again, and the cycle continues.

    The design team may have certain goals that they are trying to achieve within the game. However, they will need to iterate on all aspects of the gameplay, from dialogue to visuals to mechanics and more, in order to achieve those goals.

    When it comes to play testing, heres an important tip:  The developer shouldn't be in the room with the play testers . Not only will it make the players feel somewhat awkward and intimidated, it will also make the test less accurate.

    Players tend to make  more  effort to understand a game when the developer is watching than they would if they were playing it at home  (perhaps out of politeness to the person who has put their heart and soul into crafting the game). To get an accurate measure of how many players would simply give up on a game, play testers should be free to play the game by themselves.

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