Cause and Effect

As a game designer, my job is to craft an experience for players. There are some challenges associated with this job that stem from the facts that I generally aim for creating a specific type of experience and that different people experiences things in different ways.

For instance, let's consider how people learn new things—and so that we don’t get distracted by the influences of education systems and cultures, let's look first at how babies gather new information.

Babies are natural explorers, with a deep need to know things and understand the world that is so new to them, and they have a constant curiosity that pushes them to pursue that knowledge. Babies are famous for sticking things in their mouth. They also abuse toys in every other way they can think of too, hitting them, throwing them, feeling them, kicking them, breaking them. Babies don’t do this out of a deep hatred for the toys they’re given—rather, they do these things to gather as much information as they can about the properties of the object they’ve found.  

Babies use a series of increasingly self-corrected ideas to map out how reality works. They actively test everything because everything is new to them, and they do it much like a scientist would, first by making an observation, then by forming a hypothesis, then by experimenting on that hypothesis, then by drawing a conclusion, and then by testing all over again. This is also precisely the same way that many people learn new games.

In fact, much of game design theory is itself designed to interact with people that still learn like babies. Fundamental design concepts such as providing strongly designed positive and negative feedback to players work brilliantly if the player is poking and prodding and testing everything around them. These players actively do things just to see what will happen. They trigger “causes” in order to see what the “effect” is.

But not everyone learns this way. A large portion of the population doesn’t like to poke or prod or cause anything to happen unless they already know what the effect is. Many games weren’t designed with these people in mind at all. The player will start playing and wait to be taught the effects of their potential actions, while the game waits patiently to explain the potential effects once an action has occurred.  Both parties are waiting for the other one to start a conversation, so the dialog never occurs, and because players are people and the game is not, the player is usually the first to grow frustrated and leave the game alone forever.

As game developers we need to try hard to identify the different ways that people learn and then (ideally) design the game in such a way that it is accessible to as many people as possible.