Announcing The User Experience Team of One (2nd edition)!

Frequently Asked Questions

These common questions about video games and design and their short answers are taken from John Ferrara’s book Playful Design: Creating Game Experiences in Everyday Interfaces. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. What do you mean when you refer to “video games”?
    Throughout this book, I use the phrase “video games” to refer to computer-mediated games of all types, from World of Warcraft to Words with Friends. This may be a more general usage than a purist would select, but I use it because it’s a conventional and recognizable way to distinguish this subtype of games from other forms. I use the term “games” to refer to the broader class of experiences that includes video games as well as board games, sports, card games, gambling, and so on.
    A more robust discussion of what it means for something to be a game or a video game is found in Chapter 2.
  2. Are you suggesting that UX designers should become game designers?
    I’m proposing that UX designers adopt game design as a competency that they can enlist, alongside our existing competencies, to solve real problems. I argue that, to do this effectively, it is critical for us to acquire the theory, skills, and processes that will allow us to build truly rewarding game experiences. This book is intended to lay the groundwork for UX practitioners to begin developing this capability in earnest. So, no, I’m not suggesting that we should rethink our careers, but rather that we should grow within them.
    For more about why we should, see Chapter 1.
  3. Are video games really that important?
    This depends on what they’re doing, but they absolutely can be. Today, video games are being designed that forge connections between people, teach subjects in schools, encourage healthier living, support charitable giving, fight world hunger, and promote the cause of peace. I believe that games are up to these tasks and can offer fresh approaches to making the world a better place. See Chapters 11-13 to read more about such real-world examples.More generally, I would argue that play is an essential part of living. It’s the process by which great discoveries are made, industries are built, and people fall in love. The instinctive human drive toward play continuously pushes us to find new ways to understand and influence the world around us.
  4. Isn’t this just another way to say that we should try to make things more fun to use?
    Designers can’t just set about designing fun, for at least two reasons. First, it’s a very subjective and cultural quality, carrying a lot of different meanings for a lot of different people. The type of fun you might engineer for one person might be boring, irritating, or offensive to many others. Second, fun is an effect of a well-designed game, rather than something that can be molded directly out of clay. So it’s better to focus on creating a high-quality player experience and allow fun to emerge from the player’s interaction with it.
    I talk more about the motivations that drive people to play games in Chapter 4. See page 36.
    Apart from fun, games also have a lot of other positive effects that shouldn’t be overlooked. UX designers will find great value in exploring how they can make life more intuitive, more engaging, more memorable, more meaningful, more rewarding, more productive, more effective, and more successful.
  5. Are you saying that everything people do should be turned into a game?
    No. In this book I show how UX designers can find great opportunity in building on the innate gamefulness residing in everyday experiences to create better ways for people to interact with computers than would otherwise be available. However, this approach is not appropriate in every situation, and pursuing game strategies where there is no game to be found will result in projects that are doomed to failure. For an explanation of such pitfalls, I encourage you to read the Introduction.
    See page xv.
    But I also believe that it’s simply a good idea for UX designers to have a sense of what’s going on in games, because other kinds of benefits can be drawn from them that are relevant to our profession. Many games have amazing user interfaces, which can be a great source of inspiration in our own work. Whether it’s discovering new design patterns or getting a fresh perspective on mediated collaboration, there’s much to learn from the great design work being done in games. So the message of this book is certainly not “turn everything into a game.”
  6. How can I get involved with the best communities that are doing work in this area?
    There are a few conferences I recommend attending. Each year the Game Developers Conference (San Francisco, hosts a rotating set of smaller summits dedicated to games in real-world contexts, and the general conference is a great opportunity to learn practices and methods of the established game design industry. More specialized conferences include Games for Health (Boston,, dedicated to games that improve wellness and healthcare; Games for Change (New York City,, which showcases games that promote social causes; and Games, Learning and Society (Madison, Wisconsin,, which is largely devoted to educational games. I would love to see substantial numbers of UX designers attend these conferences. All of these groups also have very active e-mail discussion communities, which you can join on their websites. Finally, I would encourage you to find a local chapter of the International Game Developers’ Association ( and attend their meanings to learn, connect, and even introduce a UX perspective.

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