Know Your Audience

Article, Corina Lechin No Comments

Corina Lechin | November 30, 2012

Picture this: You spend six months working on the design of a serious game for the Peruvian drilling industry. After going over what seems like every article on training, and transfer of training out there and racking your brain for all the knowledge you have acquired in graduate school; you have come up with a brilliant game that will revolutionize the way drillers are taught and will reduce all accidents and unquestionably save lives! So you take your game and design an experiment to evaluate its awesomeness when you realize that 75% of the drillers don’t know how to use a mouse and they can’t get past the first task in the game.

How could this happen?! You thought of everything! Or so you thought…

At this point a realization hits, even the most effective and amazing game is completely useless if it’s intended audience can’t use it.

Looking back now, I realize the game should have been tested while it was being developed way before delivering it to the client. Even though access to actual drillers was not possible because of their location, I should have found a population that was comparable and tested the game with them. Had I done that, I would have recognized the need for a tutorial on how to use a mouse and navigate in a virtual world. To do this, I would have had to interview the client and drillers (if possible), to ask about their comfort and experience with computers and computer games.

So why is designing for your audience so important? Well, while playing the game the drillers became very frustrated and more than chose quitting over learning. Cognitive load theory (CLT) may help explain why. CLT suggests that there is a measurable relationship between mental load, mental effort and performance [1]. In this case, the mental load and effort of being presented with an unfamiliar system without the necessary preparation may have been part of the reason the drillers chose to quit. This is best summed by Carroll: “To learn, [users] must interact meaningfully with the system, but to interact with the system, the must first learn” [2, as cited in 3].

Luckily the game was adapted to account for the user’s computer comfort and experience, and the second delivery of the game was a success. But designing with the user in mind from the very beginning would have saved me a lot of troubles.

The lesson I learned is that serious games are tools that are only as good as the user’s ability to use them.


1. Paas, F., Renkl, A., & Sweller, J. (2003). Cognitive load theory and instructional design: Recent developments. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 1-4.

2. Carroll, J. M. (1987). Minimalist design for active users. In R.M. Beacher & W. A. S Buxton (Eds.), Readings in human –computer interaction: A multidisciplinary approach. Los Altos: CA: Morgan Kauffman.

3. Greitzer, F. L., Kuchar, O. A., & Huston, K. (2007). Cognitive science implications for enhancing training effectiveness in a serious game context. Journal of Educational Resources in Computing, 7(3), Art. 2.

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