Strategic Design: Breaking Mental Models Initiates Learning in Video Games

  • Jay Dee JohnsIIIEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10295)


An important part of all digital design is effective communication with users. Video game designers, compared to other types of digital designers, have much that they need to communicate within games. As a game progresses, there are often more incrementally challenging mechanics for the player to encounter and experience. By briefly explaining the more traditional methods of educating game players, I will explain how game designers can draw from user experience frameworks to improve gameplay by teaching players in both subtle and dramatic ways with the use of mental models. Perhaps most commonly, mental models have been used to describe and analyze user satisfaction, particularly among digital technologies such as websites. Although there are some key similarities between these types of technologies and video games, significant differences do emerge, although many parallels can still be drawn. I will first explain how video game designers can strategically utilize the lessons learned from previous design researchers. Then, I will explain how and when these models should be broken. By drawing on expectancy violation theory and game design strategies, I argue that purposely violating a player’s mental models can prime the player for learning in order to expand his understanding of the game world. After several case studies, I will then provide guidance to game designers who want to implement a disruptive mental model approach to educating players.


Mental model Game design Expectancy violation theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IUPUI School of InformaticsIndianapolisUSA
  2. 2.3r Interactive, LLCFort WayneUSA

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