User Experience(UX) is an area of design that largely overlaps game design. It’s about how the interface, gameplay, tutorial, and basically everything come together to create an experience. To help us look down from this thousand foot perspective Catt Small, a designer and developer from New York City with an affinity for UX helps explain why it matters and what it can do for games
Games are many things. They are vehicles for fun, storytelling devices, services, products, experiments, and ultimately they are experiences. However, we often forget the whole experience the games we make includes EVERYTHING about the game itself. The file size, the launcher, the menu, the sound; these all comprise part of the whole user experience. This is what Catt loves working on, because it encompasses so much and helps build a better product by the end.
Catt started working in web development and art, but always enjoyed tinkering with games. The more she found herself working on games the more she was drawn to working not just on the UI and art side of things, but getting in deep with playtests and product design. Figuring out how people use things and understanding how to interpret those conversations is a valuable skill when tweaking your own design.
One topic we discussed was how to deal with industry norms/expectations or what I like to call “gamer baggage.” Gamer baggage is the stuff we wall bring with us from playing countless hours of games and the codified ruleset that it instills over generations of running to the right and not left. Gamer Baggage is a duel-edge because it’s something designers need to play along with, but need to subvert to help move players closer to the experience the designer wants the players to have. Otherwise, if we just play along the work is simple and uninteresting because… well we played that already. Catt said it simply “Use new ways to use old things.” When you play to the norms, it helps familiarize a player with the product you are offering, “Make some things what people know, and then the things that are really important, and convey the point of your game, make those different,” Catt said. The core of your game, the reason you are making it is because you have your own take on the genre or mechanic, let that be where the freak flag flies, and use standard gamer baggage to get your players there.
Catt also mentioned a wonderful post on her blog titled “Advice for new UX Designers.” It’s an awesome post with a nice list of excellent resources to read on the matter of UX. I appreciate that right at the top it helps explain exactly what a UX designer does. Which if you are still wondering you should go check that out!
Catt is also a founding member of Code Liberation. Code Liberation is an organization in New York City with the goal of teaching women, and individuals who identify as women, how to create games. They’ve been offering workshops for the past two years and have gone to various events to help advocate for getting more women into making games, which helps create a wider array of experiences for players to have in the medium. Here just watch this video that explains what they do and why: