Implicit Sequence Learning in Applied Game Design

Nikolay Panayotov, Glenn Patrick Williams, Neil William Kirk, Vera Kempe

Research output: Other contribution


Background: Learning to play a game involves implicit learning, which results in tacit knowledge utilised by players to master the game. The benefits of implicit learning can serve different purposes like stealth assessment or implicit influencing of gameplay behaviour. However, implicit learning can be modulated by a variety of factors associated with the structure of the task. We examined how implicit learning in games can be affected by the game’s mechanics by testing whether mechanics that draw attention to a specific feature (e.g. colour) within the game improve learning of patterns associated with that feature, while potentially impairing learning of patterns pertaining to other features.
Method: We developed a web version of the game Whac-A-Mole, where moles appeared in a repeating pattern of four screen positions and also changed into one of four colours following a different pattern. Participants (N = 112) were randomly assigned to two groups: The colour-nonsalient group was instructed to click/tap (‘whack’) every mole as it appeared, while the colour-salient group was instructed to ‘whack’ all but the red moles. We expected that the colour pattern will be learned better by the colour-salient group compared to the colour-nonsalient group, but the reverse would be true for the position pattern as the colour mechanic disrupts the consistency in position responses.
Results and Discussion: Reaction times, free pattern generation after the game, and self-reported pattern awareness confirmed that participants in the colour-salient group showed inferior learning of position information and superior learning of colour information. These findings suggest that games researchers should pay special attention to how game mechanics affect what and how much is learned. The implicit learning methods in our experiment demonstrate promising proof of concept techniques to aid the design of game mechanics that facilitate the desired learning outcomes without producing unintended learning interference.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2020


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