Games help players make and adapt plans

When moving through a game, you usually don’t have to guess about whether you’re ready to move onto something else, or where you should go: the game will let you know (perhaps implicitly).

Sometimes, there’s a strict sequence of levels which must be solved in order. Making a plan is trivial; see Fine-grained task progressions as cognitive scaffolding.

More subtly, you may find that a boss battle depends on your ability to use a bow and arrow. The dungeon exits are sealed, so there’s nowhere else to go. So you conclude the obvious: you’ll need to get better at the bow until you can defeat the boss. In a different game, you might find that you miss sometimes with the bow and arrow, but there’s always a path forward available, at least for now. So you don’t need to work on improving your archery, unless you specifically want to.

Even in an open-world game, game designers use proximity and affective design to ensure that at least one appealing and appropriate destination is always salient. If you set out in a direction where the challenge is too great, the game will make it clear that you should adapt your plans, and it will present an obvious alternative avenue.

In sum, all this means that players can focus on the action—not on trying to figure out what they should do next. This contrasts Most explanatory media make participants run their own feedback loops.

Last updated 2023-07-13.