In 2014 I co-authored a study with my University team in order to get my Bachelor’s in Game Design. The full 183 page document can be found in the link below.
The document is in Brazilian Portuguese. I haven’t gotten around to translating the document in its entirety, and I also do not expect anyone to read the whole document, so I summarized and translated the most important parts of it, you can find it below.
The Application of anthropometry and ergonomics with concepts of game design in the development of smartphone games that enable one-handed use in a safe and comfortable way
This research indicates possibilities to apply anthropometry and ergonomics concepts, along with game design concepts to develop games for smartphones that can be played with one hand, considering the comfort and safety of the user.
We studied smartphones, comparing old models with modern models available in the market. By studying the anthropometric parameters of the hand, it was possible to determine the areas of reach of the player’s thumb in relation to the interactable elements of the games displayed on the screen and study how thumbs can interfere with the visibility of the screen.
From this result, it was possible to test existing smartphone’s games and to indicate important elements positioned in regions in which the player exerts more effort, which directly affects gameplay.
As a final proof of our findings, we applied the knowledge in a game, originally developed on the PC platform, for smartphones, making it safe and comfortable to be played with only a single hand.
Keywords: Game Design, Smartphone, Usability, Ergonomics
The study of the different concepts applied here allow us to conclude that it is possible to develop games for smartphones in a safe and comfortable way for one-handed use in most situations. For that it is extremely important that the game designer thinks about how the player is going to interact with the mobile device.
To know the limitations of the human thumb is the key of the puzzle. The game designer, thus, has to:
Avoid using movements and inputs in directions that hinder the performance of tasks done by the user; Position UI elements with input, that are frequently interacted with, in areas of interaction of fast acess and avoid, as much as they can, positioning important elements in hard to reach areas;
Have knowledge of the diverse device screen sizes in which their application is going to be utilized, and develop it in a modular way that always takes into account the size of the device and the reach of the user’s thumb, thus repositioning all input elements.
It can be concluded that the direction of the task, the region and the device itself can present variables that make the one-handed interaction process difficult. Even then, those are still factors that can be avoided with some good design practices, since they are linked to input elements, region of interaction, shape of the device and other detials that can be predefined and predicted. The only unalterable element is the user’s thumb, something that cannot be changed by the developer.
It is also important to consider that other than physical limitations, the thumb can sometimes stay in between the action of the game and the eyes of the player, requiring the game designer to pay attention to the visual elements of the game and how they are displayed. The increase in options for devices with bigger screens is considerable. Something that could be a great problem, can be a great ally in the planning of the games and its display areas, since there are more areas that are far from the reach of the thumb.
If the input area is modular and adjustable, the game can be perfectly utilized in the portrait position, with a single hand, in a safe and comfortable way.
This study opens a new area for the games market. An almost unexplored market. As we have seen, although some games permitted one handed use, all of them showcased issues in important input methods, simply because they weren’t thought out to be executed that way. Those are simple changes, fine adjustments that make all the difference.
If you are in academia and would like to discuss the document, or would like a fully translated version, don’t be afraid to reach out below.