One of the challenges the QA team at Filament faces is that our players are often children and our team is made up of adults. That isn’t a problem when testing a crash or a missing art asset, but it can be when we test the user experience. Here are three things I try to keep in mind when looking at a game from a child’s perspective:
Children have small hands. A phone is a tablet to a child, and a tablet is a TV. What’s comfortable to me may not be comfortable to a kid sitting at a desk.
At the first school playtest I attended, I watched a child lay her test phone down on her desk and tap at it like she was hunting and pecking at a keyboard. The game required dragging from the top of the screen to the middle of the screen, and her thumbs couldn’t reach when she held it in two hands. That feedback helped the development team make the decision to change the game layout so that players now drag from the bottom of the screen to the middle of the screen.
Children have a small vocabulary. We develop games for many age groups, so it’s important for me to know what children’s vocabulary capabilities are at various grade levels when I’m checking text in a game. For instance, a game aimed at first graders needs to be deliberate in its wording, because first graders probably can’t use context clues to figure out unfamiliar words. Writing content that is appropriate for the age group is the game designer’s responsibility, but QA plays a role in checking those words to make sure a child can understand and interpret them.
Children may never have seen a controller. This is probably the hardest part about testing learning games. I’ve been playing games for almost 30 years. I’ve played games of every imaginable type and on any platform you can name, so I can pick up any game and understand what I’m supposed to do within minutes. Children do not have the same benefit of experience. I have to approach a game as if I’ve never played that game—or any game like it—before. If a tablet game has a virtual controller, I need to approach the game as if I’ve never used a real controller before.
Of all these considerations, the most important thing a tester of learning games can do is to watch children play and get a better understanding of their perspective and their tiny hands.
The stakes are high for testing these types of experiences - a child who doesn't know what to do next or is struggling to read the tutorial text is distracted from the game and less likely to connect with the material. When testing from the perspective of children, QA needs to identify these problems so that designers and developers can fix them, allowing kids to play a game that feels like it was made for them.