The Acagamic Tip Tuesday #17: Contextual Prompts

A new newsletter published on Wed, 08 Jun 2022 00:00:00 +0000, called The Acagamic Tip Tuesday #17: Contextual Prompts

Lennart Nacke
The Acagamic Tip Tuesday
4 min readJun 14, 2022


This is content mirrored from my website.

Happy Tuesday evening (apologies, I was sick this weekend), and welcome back to The Acagamic Tip Tuesday.

Here is a short UX tip, two useful links, and a research finding from the world of UX Research & Design for games.

This will only take a few minutes to read.

Game UX Tip of the Week

Contextual Prompts: Display contextual prompts to recommend specific actions to players either directly in the HUD or as spatial elements.

It is good practice to provide players with instructions in place when certain contextual interactions are possible. These prompts can include images and animations, such as button prompts, or they can be text labels. Sometimes, we even see meta UI effects, such as flashing screens or vignetted screen edges. While designers could also permanently display the instructions through the in-game HUD (if this information is always relevant for gameplay), contextual prompts raise the awareness of what actions are possible and direct player attention toward actions without making them take action. Thus, players feel autonomy and immersion.

In Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the button and possible contextual action pop up when Link comes close to an object in the world that they can interact with. In the above example, it’s picking up a mushroom at the beginning of the game. Later, as Link becomes stronger, the player can seamlessly switch between magic actions and opening a chest with the same button, all indicated just-in-time contextually (and spatially) as they become available.

In the game Ghost of Tsushima, like in many other combat-oriented games, an on-screen contextual HUD popup (together with a blurry coloured shader overlay) instructs players that they are low on health and that they need to press the ↓ button to heal.

Two Links

  • HUDs and GUIs — if you ever need some UI inspiration from motion pictures
  • UX Methods for XR (extended reality) — really useful information for anyone doing UX research in VR or XR

Games Research Find of the Week

In this journal article, the research team (my collaborators) investigated the effects of cognitive styles on teams engaged in collaborative gaming activities. Cognitive styles are higher-level cognitive functions to process information and represent how you prefer to think, remember, and problem-solve. In multiplayer collaborative games these are really important because players must coordinate their actions to succeed as a team. Individual differences impact teamwork and gameplay.

They studied 54 players in a mixed-methods user study and classified them as field-dependent (FD → they process everything they notice as a whole with less attention to detail) or independent (FI → they isolate relevant information from everything they notice, attention to detail). Teams played together in the combinations FD-FD, FD-FI, and FI-FI for the study.

The researchers analyzed team performance, cognitive load, communication, and player experience. Results showed that time to finish the game was worst for the FD-FD combination (and mental demand and frustration here were higher) because they struggled to complete the game objectives on time, and attention to detail paid off. FI-FI teams navigated most effectively in the game world. FD-style players needed to communicate much more than FI-style players. In contrast, FD-style players required more help and directions.

Read the full study:

Sultan A. Alharthi, George E. Raptis, Christina Katsini, Igor Dolgov, Lennart E. Nacke, and Z O. Toups. 2021. Investigating the Effects of Individual Cognitive Styles on Collaborative Gameplay. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 28, 4, Article 23 (August 2021), 49 pages.

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Lennart Nacke
The Acagamic Tip Tuesday

UX Professor (Games/Gamification) → Mentoring academics how to get their research papers accepted and training UX researchers to create more fun products.