EAE 4900 - Psychology of Games


In order to design a game with a specific aesthetic, a game designer must understand the way the gamer’s mind works. Only then can the designer hope to elicit a player interpretation of the game such that the player experiences the desired aesthetic the designer created the game for. This course is an in-depth look at cognitive principles, such as perception, attention, and motivation, and how we, as game designers, can apply these principles to create the engaging games we intend.


This course covers:

  1. The cognitive processes of perception, memory, attention, event processing, cognitive load, motivation, emotion, learning, decision making, ecological psychology, creativity, identity, as applied to the analysis of games.
  2. Systematic design of games in terms of mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics, goals, feedback, and interpretation.
  3. Case studies that exemplify game design practices that are sensitive to issues around human cognition.
  4. Evaluation of games from the lens of psycyhology and design.

Expected Learning Outcomes

The overarching goal of this class is that you will be able to proficiently apply cognitive theory to the game design process. More specifically you will be able to:

  1. Identify cognitive principles at work in design
  2. Appraise a game’s design and articulate why a particular design yielded the intended, or unintended, effect.
  3. Sketch a game design, describing the important cognitive principles to follow.
  4. Understand how to improve UX based on a specific understanding of the gamer’s mind.
  5. Formulate game design improvements based on sound science.

Class Details

Term: Spring 2021

Location: Online

Date and Time: M / 01:25PM-04:20PM

Instructor: Nancy N. Blackburn






Undergraduate in the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program, or permission of the instructor.


Class format is a combination of seminar and lecture, drawing from the book and supplementary readings provided by the instructor. Grading is based on class participation (via discussions and in-class presentation) as well as comprehension quizzes and term projects.


Celia Hodent. The Gamer's Brain: How Neuroscience and UX can Impact Video Game Design. CRC Press, 2017.

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Merrill Engineering Building, #3153
50 Central Campus Drive
Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA