I think a lot about user interface/experience/interaction lately. What’s the greatest user experience? Games.

Games’ UI are so appealing, people use them for sake of the interaction itself. Everyone talks of iPod’s user experience, but people use it for the music. Flickr is my favorite Web app, but the photos are the point. Gmail is the best way to communicate via email.

Yet games’ interfaces are both the means and the reward. Success in a game changes nothing in a users’ lives, but it affects their emotions so much they will invest huge amounts of time to achieve it and may even buy special hardware for that alone.

This is interesting considering that many games’ UI breaks most rules we try to follow for a good interface. It is often decidedly complex, doesn’t follow conventions, demands you learn it quickly and actively punishes you for making a mistake or even being slow at operating it.

There are better game UIs and worse, but while the UI is important, it doesn’t play as critical a role in deciding a game’s fate as one might expect. There is some appeal there that draws users so much that they are willing to adapt their habits to the game rather than vice versa.

Games have charisma. They aren’t necessarily as nice or helpful as other software, they don’t follow the guidelines, yet people want to interact with them. It’s worth trying to find out if there’s something there that can be applied to other interfaces.

Update: Steve Johnson has a very interesting talk in the Long Now Seminars, where at certain part he discusses games, complex game interfaces, and the reason these are appealing to our brains at a very deep level. He also talks about a lot of other interesting stuff – well worth listening.


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