Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

The cult of the peacock (Brendan Vance)

Brendan Vance, a game developer and blogger, has written a very nice critique of modern games that he calls "The cult of the peacock." 

Yeah, he says nice things about Design of Everyday Things (the original version, he didn't know about the new one), but that is not why I like the piece. Honest.

I really like the points he makes. I highly recommend the piece, whether or not you develop or even play video games. The points he raises apply to a wide range of products.

But I do disagree with his complaint about the lack of manuals. Few people ever read manuals -- as is well illustrated in Vance's discussion about them.  This is true whether it is a manual for an automobile, a new cooking device a TV set, a computer program or app, or a game.  therefore, to me, the important point is to develop devices that are self-explaining, that do not require manuals. In the new edition of Design of Everyday Things I call this property "discoverable." How would you do this in a complex game? Here is what I suggested in my response to his piece on his blog: 

You understand! You get it! Thank you for the delightful article thoughts (and words of praise for DOET (now out in a newly revised and expanded edition).

I have some thoughts to add, both to your (Brendan's) article and to commentators.

Games are supposed to be difficult and challenging. Manuals are seldom read, and therefore the more we can do without them, the better. (Yes, I also like well-done manuals.) But the challenge of a game should refer to the deliberate structures and challenges of the game design, not to figuring out the goal, purposes, and controls (unless, that is truly what the designer intended.)

How can one balance ease of use with the challenges and difficulties of play? That's where the skill of the designer comes into the picture.

I believe it is possible to design game controls and other features in ways that do not require manuals, especially for experienced game players. Attract screens (remember them?) can also as tutorials without feeling like one. Similarly, there can be other features whose purpose is to demonstrate and teach but that are so cleverly done that they are not perceived as such.

Consider the author of a novel or detective/crime/spy story. They have to tell the reader a lot of backstory, but this stuff is really dull. How do they do it? They will introduce a younger character who is new to the scene, so that either the hero has to explain a lot of stuff (but in a natural way), or the new person will unearth material and rush to tell others. The others may even respond with boredom, but the reader of the story gets informed.

In a first-person shooter, maybe the old veteran off on the side kills the wicked troll and shouts, "yes! command-back-arrow, double click, twist the wrist works again!"

You figure it out.

Thanks for the great analysis and rant.