Creating Positive User Experiences When Introducing Players To

Students will learn techniques for creating tutorial systems for their games. Tutorial design, though seemingly a narrow practice, covers many fundamental skills of game and product design used throughout the experience of a product. These skills easily translate to UX, UI and level/game design in all parts of game or product.

Let’s say you’ve come up with a cool idea for a game and have some of the levels or areas designed and have even shown it to your friends. Now you want to take it to the next level, from a prototype to a game. Along with thinking about progression and content, you need to come up with a way to teach new players how to play your game. How do you do that without making it boring? Can you teach them while they’re playing so they don’t even know there is a tutorial? This lesson gives some tips and advice to think about when making your game.

A good game tutorial is one that is seamless within the game so that players don’t even realize they’re following a tutorial. In product design, a good “tutorial” is one where users can open up a product and figure out how it works without having to read a manual.

Learning Goals

Students will learn some basic human psychology that is involved in the UX in game and product design. This lesson will cover:

  • Schemas
  • Using visuals for guiding players to an outcome
  • Pacing new concepts to avoid cognitive load
  • Various cognitive biases
  • Designing game challenges around teaching concepts
  • User and play testing


Cognitive Bias:

“Systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.” In other words: humans have evolved to process information quickly, sometimes at the sake of accuracy, which can lead us to make unusual choices or come to decisions without full awareness.

Norman Doors is a term coined by Don Norman, a UX designer who suggested that doors should be easy for people to understand how to use, yet, we encounter many poorly designed doors! Poorly designed doors are nick-named Norman Doors.

For example, answer the following math question: A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs 1 dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Got your answer?

It’s 5 cents.

It’s a seemingly simple math question but most people incorrectly answer 10 cents. That’s because when we read the question, our brain processes the information quickly, and we focus on the two amounts: 1 dollar and 10 cents. Then when asked about the difference, our brains jump to subtracting 1 dollar and finding 10 cents remaining. That seems right so we answer with that. It takes energy to sit down and think the question through, and most of the time our brains prefer to process info quickly, and don’t even realize we’ve made an error.

If you had read this:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs 1 dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

You probably had a greater chance of getting the problem correct. Making something physically harder to read slows your mind down enough that you are more likely process the question rather than jump to an answer that seems right. And it’s not about motivation, you were quick because your brain is naturally quick. Cognitive bias is a subconscious process beyond your control. We may think we control it, but we don’t.

Cognitive Load:

Refers to the effort used in a person’s working memory (which is different from short-term memory). Working memory is where you think about the problem at hand, along with all the other pressing things on your mind at the time.

When a person is learning new concepts or ideas, or processing a lot of information at once, they need a lot of memory to learn, and working memory is extremely limited. It can also make us feel strained or challenged. This feeling of challenge can be exciting and stimulating during games, but to be in this state for a prolonged period can lead us to feeling tired and helpless.

For instance, work this problem in your head:


Now, try this one in your head:


In the second example, the “problem” is the same as the first. The skills needed are the same. But for most of us, the second sum asks for more than our brains can handle. Our eyes gloss over the numbers and we probably don’t even want to attempt the problem in the first place.

Choice Paralysis:

Related to Cognitive Load, this is when a user is presented with so many choices that it is hard to make a decision. Do you ever find yourself swiping through Netflix titles, yet unable to select one?


Where users discover what operations the product or game can do on their own.


Receiving some kind of messaging reinforcing whether an action was performed. Such as a sound, vibration, or colour change.


Also known as being in “the zone”, this is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed with a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In games, flow is when players are fully immersed and feel challenged but not frustrated.

Here is a chart that shows flow used in game design. When a challenge is too hard for players, they can feel stressed, anxious or strained. When a challenge isn’t hard enough, players can feel bored. Flow is the perfect balance of a challenge that is engaging and fun, but not too hard to cause strain.


When the state of “flow” is broken, usually as an outcome of something unexpected happening.

Conceptual Disfluency:

When a schema or expected outcome doesn’t happen. It creates “attentional blink” or confusion when a stimulus goes against what is mentally anticipated or expected. For example, when the colours or positions of the OK and Cancel buttons are swapped in the UI, which leads players to accidentally hit the wrong button.

This is another example: It causes users to stop and think because the colors are swapped:

Delete is typically red, and keep is typically green. This mismatch causes a “second take” for users.

Game Tutorial:

A section of the game that is designed to teach players how to play the game.


A pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them. For example, a floppy disk icon that means Save… or a trash can that means Delete.


A technique where exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention. For example, the word NURSE is recognized more quickly following the word DOCTOR than following the word BREAD.

Another example of priming are the following pictures:

If asked to fill in the missing letter, viewers would more likely answer “u” in the first image to make the word Soup… and “a” in the second, to make the word Soap.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the purpose of a game tutorial? It is more than simply teaching players how to play a game. A tutorial should engage and excite players about the game, encouraging them to play. A tutorial should not make a game seem hard, frustrating, or boring. But it also shouldn’t treat the player as if they don’t know anything. A good tutorial should Teach, Comfort, Engage, and Respect.
  • What does a game tutorial look like? It should blend in to the game or product seamlessly so that users or players don’t even realize it’s there. Which isn’t the same thing as not having a tutorial. It means that the game itself is the tutorial

Curriculum Links

Through this module students will learn about Psychology and Systems Thinking concepts, and engage their Critical Thinking skills in the process, which can be applied to any subject or curriculum.

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