Games UX Research with Kids: A Primer

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Gaming means a lot to me, not only was it my introduction to the digital world, it gave me a sense of belonging as a teenager. So any opportunity I get to work with game creation, I tend to throw myself into it, and so with research as well.

This post is about some of the important tips, observations and experience I’ve had while running a research piece with kids. In this study, the research was to explore the usability of hand-held consoles vs tablets/smartphones with kids between the ages of 2ย  and 10. I had a sample size of 6.

The research method was ethnography which I think is the best method when working with children. You want to learn and cocreate with them in a natural environment free of fear and stress.

Get Checked and Ready

crbTo undertake any interaction with kids formally in the UK, you should get your CRB done (now called DBS).ย  This enabled me work with children as a caretaker, tutor and then as a researcher. You can check out the process here, this is what it looks like. I also attended some training on working with children in general.

This is also a good read for guidance COPPA

Get to know the peopleย and the space

Most of the families I’ve been involved with I got to spend time with them for at least a day before carrying out the research (try to limit presence to two people). Having chats, lunch together, being as relaxed as possible, make sure the parents understand what is being captured and what isn’t. Trust is key here. They are also the experts on their children, so pay attention to what they say.

Try to observe where/when the children are comfortable/energized because children are easily distracted and when they are tired they get cranky even gaming will not suffice.

Play, Observe, take notes

In ethnographic research you could either be an active participant or a fly on the wall observer. Usually when it comes to games, employing both is desirable. It’s certainly an advantage if you like children and like to play games. For me this comes natural and I have to make sure I remember why I’m there. But it’s ok to get lost in the moment, have fun, don’t forget to ask questions and observe what the child is doing and saying as they play the game.

With the consent of the parent (and the child) you might be able to take videos and pictures to keep a record of things.

Goodbyes and Analyse

It’s always hard to bring this to an end, in the best of times the children give me parting gifts and I’ve made a mental note to always get something for them too. Now, the hard work begins as you gather all the bits, observations and notes to try to form a coherent story.

My analysis starts by stepping away from the work and reflecting on the activity and how that ties to my initial quest. Visualizing what happened and attempting to connect the dots comes next.

After, I look at all ‘the evidence’ from the video, scribbles, audio, game analytics and condense them into written notes using a simple word processing app, type it up and share. Also, it’s good to do an ‘OPOV’ (other point of view) run through of the notes. Games are mostly meant to be challenging, when it appears too easy this could mean players abandon it very fast.

Some observations;

  • Kids love instant feedback.
  • Touch is more natural than controls. Everytime I tried to introduce the handheld console, it just frustrated them (although this could be seen in another perspective)
  • Actually, Motion > Touch > Controls
  • Kids will say it as it is, if it’s boring, they will tell you it’s boring to them, you should ask why.
  • Games without sound are painful (sound is a feedback mech)
  • Kids usually want what you have, if you are playing a game and look happy, they will be curious about it hence the need for participation.
  • Older kids in the group (8-10) will hold back a bit more, choosing games they feel they will succeed in over games that might just be fun.
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A parting gift


For more reading on Games User Research and Ethnography

5 things to remember when conducting UX research with children

Kids and Research

Games User research

Analysis Techniques

Making the most of Ethnographic Research

Ethnography in UX

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