When we press a light switch, we expect a light to turn on somewhere. If a light doesn’t turn on, then we get confused, or frustrated, or decide that the damned thing is broken and walk away. This comes down to the fact that a common light switch is a well designed product with good user feedback.
But is this universal design rule also always the case in video game design, or can we simply ignore reliable response on purpose?
Donald Norman came up with the 6 design principles of everyday things in 1988: Visibility, feedback, constraints, mapping, consistency, and affordance. These principles makes it clear exactly what a consumer expects out of a good design and what needs to be done to limit frustration.
One of these principles, feedback, describes that when we press a button, we expect something to happen. Even if the final outcome of the task isn’t immediate – like boiling water with an electric kettle – we still want an indication that the task is being done.
But specifically in the production of video games, feedback wasn’t mentioned until Doug Church introduced the idea of perceivable consequence in 1999. His extensive article Formal Abstract Design Tools was written in an attempt to define a technical library for all game designers to use universally. In this article, he describes a principle identical with Normans:
“Perceivable consequence (is) a clear reaction from the game world to the action of the
player.” (Church, 1999)
In other words: We press an arrow key, and the game character moves. We observe the behaviour, and we expect the same outcome next time we press the arrow key. Exactly like how Norman envisioned.
But the discussion turns interesting, when Church states that these principles are not definite rules which has to be applied in every game.
And indeed another writer backs him up on this claim, by stating that “perceivable consequence might be better thought of less of a tool, as Church suggested, but an aesthetic goal” (Errant Signal, 2015) Church himself says that other design tools – such as a narrative – interfere with reliable feedback systems.
In games where you might want a very specific emotional output from the player (confusion, helplessness), isn’t it maybe better to take the feedback away momentarily? If that is the case, then the decision whether or not to include solid feedback becomes an artistic expression.
It isn’t far-fetched to think that exploring feedback – or any of Norman’s other 6 principles – and turning them upside down or leave them out completely, might lead to more interesting and innovative game ideas.
Church, Doug (1999) “Formal Abstract Design Tools” Gamasutra. Available at: http:// http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131764/formal_abstract_design_tools.php?page=7
Errant Signal (2015) “Perceivable Consequence” Errant Signal (August) Available at: http:// http://www.errantsignal.com/blog/?p=789
Summary of Don Norman’s Design Principles. Available at: http://www.csun.edu/science/ courses/671/bibliography/preece.html