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Tutorials - Learning to Play - LOGIN 2010 Lecture by Sheri Graner Ray

Submitted by Rosethorn on May 18, 2010 - 12:45pm. Exclusive Editorials

Sheri Graner Ray, for those not in the know, has been around the gaming space since 1989, when it was still firmly entrenched in the boy's club. She has worked for EA, SOE and is currently a Senior Designer with Schell Games. She is widely considered the leading expert on gender issues in the video game industry, even penning "Gender Inclusive Game Design - Expanding the Market." She co-founded Women in Games International and is serving as the current chair.

I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Sheri at Austin GDC 2008 (before the transition of its name to GDC Online) on learning styles. Everyone is already aware of how people learn, either by listening, seeing or touching (although Sheri, in this lecture, redefined Kinetic as learning through movement, not the same as doing). However, most people aren't aware of the two ways people actually learn, called learning styles. Sheri went into this again in the Tutorials lecture at LOGIN 2010 and then expounded upon that to define how that impacts tutorials (or should at any rate).

Essentially, there are two types of learners - exploratory and modeling. Exploratory learners, like myself and many of the people I know in this space, will click and break and fix until they figure out how something works. Tutorials sort of annoy us, especially if we can't skip something we already know how to do. Speaking from personal experience, I can say I haven't thought much about how to capture the modeling audience, since being an exploratory learner myself, it doesn't dawn on me that not everyone enjoys figuring something out with little guidance. I'm sure a lot of game designers fall into the same trap.

The other type of learner is modeling. These are people who want to know the risks before they do something. They want to know exactly what is going to happen before they click on something on the screen. These are people like my mother, who I couldn't figure out why she only played my game (A Tale in the Desert) for a few minutes, then vacated to go play one of her puzzling games. I thought for sure ATitD was her type of game. But after listening to Sheri's lecture and being reminded about learning styles, I realize I made a mistake with her. I sat her down in front of the game, said have at it and walked away. ATitD suffers the way many games in our genre do, from the lack of a good tutorial. After about 10 minutes, I came back and she'd shut down the game and loaded up Zuma. She said she didn't like it. But now, I realize, my mother, being a modeling style learner, wasn't comfortable learning ATitD because she had no idea what was going to happen. If I had sat down next to her and explained everything along the way, she'd probably be playing it now.

So how are these things taken and applied to Tutorials? Well it's simple really. Sheri says you create a tutorial for the modelers out there, but allow it to be skippped for the exploratory crowd. There are three things a tutorial should focus on, which all involve how to play the game, not what the goals of the game are. These three things she pegged as move, shoot and communicate. Shoot, of course, can mean anything -- as it is the primary activity in the game. If players can learn how to move, how to do the primray activity in the game, and how to communicate during the tutorial, they will stick around to learn more.

Sheri also said two things are important in writing the tutorial. First, when using nouns, define the nouns. And don't define jargon with jargon, be sure to define them in terms anyone understands. The second is to concentrate on verbs. Focus on the actions people will do in the game, rather than overloading them with information about it. Don't explain anything they won't need until much later in the game, for example.

The final object lesson I took away from the talk was on how to properly do a tutorial. In addition to showing and telling, then allowing the player to do, one thing tutorials don't do well is allowing the player to do again. In other words, let the player choose when to move on once they are comfortable with an activity, rather than letting them do it once and then moving on automatically. Again, since you are allowing exploratory learners to just skip all this anyway, it doesn't hurt anyone to cater to the modeling learners when building a tutorial.

Tutorials are such an important part of the process, but a lot of game developers fail to realize this. There are a lot of players out there that might play their game, but without a good tutorial that makes modeling learners comfortable learning the game, they are eliminating a significant portion of their potential playerbase.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Sheri speak, definitely take it. Her lecture is informative and interesting -- and something that developers should always strive to learn more about - their players and how they learn.

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