Using Applied Cognitive Load Theory and Difficulty Analysis for Educational Game Design

Proceedings from International Conference Foundations of Digital Games Conference, San Luis Obispo, CA, Aug, 2019

Using the adult literacy game Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis, an XPRIZE grand prize winner, as a development test, this article establishes a data-informed design process using gameplay curve analysis to control difficulty and increase accessibility to the target audiences of educational games. The process uses guidelines based in Cognitive Load Theory and fundamental digital game design principles of flow, skill progression, interest curves, and pacing to calculate and analyze the baseline curve of existing gameplay. Based on this analysis, sections are targeted for replacement or adjustment, and run through stages of design and review against the initial goals in iterative loops until passing on to final implementation.

Given known variables of target audience skill, quantifiable difficulty measurements for existing gameplay, and the desired skills taught and tested, designers can use this process to analyze and adjust gameplay for increased accessibility. By controlling the difficulty of gameplay, designers ensure that players are able to learn and practice skills adequately, laying the foundation for further in-game and real-world challenges. While this article focuses on educational games and adult literacy, this process is broadly applicable to any educational or entertainment games that desire greater control over gameplay curve progression.