Designing VR/AR Experiences for the Under 18 Crowd
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
This is a post I originally wrote for Schell Games. You can read the original post at https://www.schellgames.com/blog/vr-the-next-generation . Images from this post were provided by Schell Games.
Kids and teenagers both enjoy virtual reality (VR) as much as (if not more than) adults. However, their playstyles, interests, and even abilities to use the hardware can vary drastically. Here are a few key observations we’ve picked up in the last few years.
While everything else in this article may be a generalization or an educated guess, if you’re designing a VR or AR game for kids, keep these suggestions in mind:
Headsets weren’t built with kids in mind: I’ve seen plenty of kids having a ball in VR, but the younger they get the more likely it is that the the headset will start slipping off their face. Even if their parents are okay with them playing the game, physically, the child may be unable to play.
Kids have tiny hands: When you’re designing for kids, they might not be able to reach buttons as easily as adults (or, in some cases, at all.) Their hands can also get cramped and tired when they’re using controllers built for adults. Playtest control schemes early and often to make sure kids can reach everything that they need to.
Kids are (generally) shorter than adults: Don’t put anything important too high off the ground. Consider putting important interfaces on hand controllers so that kids can always reach them. If you have important gameplay elements on tables, consider adding a way to raise and lower either the table or the player’s head. Telekinesis is another great way to make sure that the player can reach everything that they need.
Age matters. A lot.: The stuff that seven year olds like is usually VERY different from the stuff that eleven year olds like. Interests, cognitive abilities, reading levels, and dozens of other factors vary drastically as kids age. Particularly if you’re designing for the elementary to middle school range, do your best to pick a very specific age range to target. A three-year spread can still be a lot to cover.
It’s always important to playtest a game with your target demographic, but this is especially true for kids. Adult coworkers may be children at heart, but as test subjects, adults are a poor substitute for the real thing. We invite kids to test the games we make early and often so that if we run into any huge issues, we can catch them and design around them before it’s too late.
Like I said earlier, VR and AR hasn’t really been built with kids in mind yet, but here are some interesting tidbits we’ve picked up recently:
Sharing in augmented reality (AR): Handheld AR is a cool medium for kids because kids can look over each other’s’ shoulders. I haven’t seen many games or apps play with this explicitly yet, but when it happens it’s a cool moment.
Grabbing stuff is cool: Both kids and adults seem to prefer hand-based controllers to remote-based or headset-based. There’s something about reaching out and picking up an object in VR that just feels awesome no matter how old you are.
Kids play differently than adults: This definitely varies from person to person, but you may find for example that on a particular platform, kids are more comfortable leaning in to examine an object closely than adults. Kids can also have different frustration points than adults: kids might ignore an interface glitch that gets an adult playtester riled up in just one or two uses, but they might also get bored of a repetitive action that an adult finds satisfying. There aren’t very many ‘hard and fast’ rules for this yet, so just make sure that if you’re planning on including a younger audience that you playtest with people of a variety of ages.
(Warning: small sample size and anecdotal data ahead.)
When I playtest with kids or give talks at career days, I ask kids about the kinds of games they like to play. These are mostly broad generalizations, but:
Humorous content is awesome: Funny is memorable, funny is quotable, funny is memeable. Humorous content and opportunities for funny moments can keep kids talking about a game for a very long time.
Favorite game types: When I ask kids about their favorite games, a few patterns seem to rise to the surface: (1) games that are super huge and/or replayable (e.g. GTA, Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG), Assassin’s Creed, etc.) (2) games with characters that they love (e.g. Undertale) (3) games that their favorite streamers and Youtubers are playing (4) mobile games that are easy to pick up when they’ve got a free moment. This isn’t large-scale market research by any means, but when designing VR games these are good touch points to keep in mind. On a related note, gamer parents are pretty likely to have gamer kids.
Community generated content is king: Games with additional content made by the community as well as customizable options are very popular. Team Fortress 2 (TF2) was big on that for a while, now it’s PUBG. Minecraft is the canonical customizable megagame, but the trend extends to other games as well.
Possible Educational Content
There’s a lot of interest in getting VR and AR experiences into schools, but that’s still a very new branch that not many people have explored yet. Here are a few subjects that I think could work well in the medium:
Sensitivity/empathy training (put yourself in someone else’s shoes)
Historical content (visit places that don’t exist anymore, view important events from the past, etc.)
Virtual competitions (model UN, debate club, etc.)
Physics simulations (to complement physics/math classes)
Cooking (learn techniques by watching over someone’s shoulder)
Listening/observation (listening to characters tell a story (i.e. murder mystery?) and react to new information)
If you’re new to the space, you’ll probably have more questions. If you’re a veteran, you may want to argue the finer points. Either way, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can talk more about VR. Do it.