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The User Interface Continuum: A Study Of Player Preference
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The User Interface Continuum: A Study Of Player Preference

April 12, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

What Does This Mean?

Not surprisingly, one of the conclusions from the study is that game worlds don't operate in the same way as traditional fictional worlds. This is related to the fact that game worlds are interactive, while the worlds of film and literature not being interactive. Game worlds are designed for a specific gameplay and the players therefore have other expectancies from the game environment than they have from the environments represented in films. But this is only part of the explanation.

The media scholars J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin argued already in 1999 that digital media genres, among them video games, are technology fetishist at the same time as they try to mask their own mediation. They may be right, at least when it comes to video games. Although there are games that try to mask their own mediation by implementing user interface features into the fictional environment, we have seen that this is not necessary for capturing the players' involvement and sense of immersion. Instead the players accept the user interface as conventional.

The reason why accepting the interface is so easy for the players, is according to game designer Matt Weise due to the fact that there is no fourth wall in video games. Using a theatre metaphor that describes the invisible wall that separates the audience from the world on stage,

Weise emphasizes that the player's interactive involvement makes the absence of the fourth wall very obvious in video games, and that this allows games to play with self-reflexivity and the very mediation of games. This theory is also appropriate for explaining why the user interface is accepted as a convention.

New media scholars such as Janet Murray have argued that in interactive or participatory media such as games, immersion is empowered by something different from traditional media. It is not the audiovisual realism that creates immersion, but instead it is the interactivity itself.

From this perspective, having the power to act within the game environment is the most important support for immersion. As long as the user interface is able to provide the player with the most effective tools for doing this, immersion is not compromised by overlays, HUDs and the presence of icons. In this sense a good interface which is both elegant and functional will help the player immerse.

But What Does It Mean For Game User Interface Design?

In practice, this means that game user interface designers should not be too worried about ruining the players' sense of involvement when using overlay interfaces and visual elements that don't fit into the fictional environment. However, although most players out there tend to fall into the category of the Relativists, designers should also be aware that there are many out there who are either Systemists or Fictionalists. These groups should also be catered for.

In practice this means that user interface designers should not worry if interface features are not integrated as natural to the fictional environment, but also strive towards making the user interface as elegant as possible to make it stylistically appropriate. At the same time they must keep in mind that the user interface provides necessary information as clearly as possible. This is particularly important for appealing to novice users that may be confused and feel lack of control if gameplay information is not communicated in a direct manner.

Of course, in making evaluations of how the user interface should be represented in a game, the genre in question and the specific game mechanics must be considered. While it may be appropriate to integrate the HUD as a natural part of the avatar's suit in a modern FPS, it is probably better to have substantial overlay information in an MMO, in which the monitoring of a lot of simultaneous processes are crucial, for instance in raids and PvP situations.

The user interface may be implemented in a range of different ways, and as long as the designer follows principles of communicating the game system in a clear and understandable manner, one is free to play with the border between fiction and game system. The designers should utilize the interface for what it is worth and not be afraid that it might disrupt the sense of immersion. One should see any degree of integration of the interface as an enhancement of usability; something that provides the player with more options for interaction in the gameworld, and not something that removes immersion.

Further reading

Bolter, J. David and Grusin, Richard (1999). Remediation. Understanding New Media. MIT Press.

Breda, L. (2008). "Invisible Walls". Game Career Guide. Feature, Aug 19. Available:

Fagerholt, Erik and Lorentzon, Magnus (2009). Beyond the HUD. User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games. Master thesis, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg. Available:

Murray, Janet (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. MIT Press.

Weise, Matt (2008). "Press the 'Action' Button, Snake! The Art of Self-Reference in Video Games". Game Career Guide. Feature, Nov 25. Available:

Wilson, Greg (2006). "Off With Their HUDs! Rethinking the Heads-Up Display in Console Game Design". Gamasutra, Feature, Feb 3. Available:

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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