Plug n' Play: Exploring Asymmetry and Modularity for Inclusive Game Design
This proposal seeks to establish a comprehensive framework for the design of inclusive digital games through modular, asymmetric game design, enabling heterogeneous groups (e.g. families, mixed-ability groups) to play together, regardless of the constraints they face to gaming.
The image shows two panels - each of them consists of a screenshot taken from the game, demonstranting one of the mechanics. In both of them, there is a blue penguin on a red floater centered on a white snowy track, facing forward. The trail behind the floater indicates it is moving forward. The left panel shows the timed gate - a gate appears blocking the entire track, with a cobbled floor in that area and a traffic light. The right panel shows the activation of the forced handbrake - red particles appear behind the floater.

The Trick is to Stay Behind?: Defining and Exploring the Design Space of Player Balancing Mechanics

Disparate skill levels or expertise may result in unbalanced multiplayer experiences, where players feel frustrated, unchallenged, or left out. Some games employ player balancing mechanisms, such as matchmaking to group players according to their rank or, in racing games, players who lag behind receiving powerful boosts to catch up. We add to the understanding of player balancing in multiplayer gaming. First with a theoretical model that captures seven high-level design categories. Second, with a study where participant pairs experienced and gave their perspectives on seven different balancing mechanics in a racing game. Our results outline the importance of preserving a sense of merit and agency, while avoiding an obtrusive effect on the gameplay.

David Gonçalves, Daniel Barros, Pedro Pais, João Guerreiro, Tiago Guerreiro, André Rodrigues

CHI 2024 ‑ ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May, 2024

A montage of two screenshots, one from the desktop version and the other from the mobile version. In the desktop version, you can see the player character in a room with 2D top-down visuals and the controls imprinted on the room's floor. In the mobile version, you can see the unlocks tab of the shop, with multiple unlocks appearing and a visualization of the shop on the bottom part of the screen.

Promoting Family Play through Asymmetric Game Design

For families, where abilities, motivations, and availability vary widely, opportunities for intergenerational play are limited. Designing games that cater to these differences remains an open challenge. In this paper, we first identify barriers related with time and expertise. Next, we propose asymmetric game design and asynchronous play to reconcile children's and adults' requirements; and interdependent gameplay mechanics to foster real-world interactions. Following this approach, we designed a testbed game and conducted a mixed-methods remote study with six pairs of adult-child family members. Our results showcase how asymmetric, asynchronous experiences can be leveraged to create novel gaming experiences that meet the requirements of family play. We discuss how interdependent progress can be designed to promote real-world interactions, creating pervasive conversational topics that permeate the family routine.

Pedro Pais, David Gonçalves, Kathrin Gerling, Teresa Romão, Tiago Guerreiro, André Rodrigues

CSCW 2024 ‑ ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, October, 2024

A diagram built around an horizontal line that represents the spectrum of definitions for social gaming identified in the work. The definitions are: Social as non-solitary, Social in the game's intent, Social in the interactions, Social in the outcomes, and Social inherent to gaming.

Social gaming: A systematic review

This work contributes with a systematized view of social aspects that permeate gaming experiences, while outlining directions and implications for future work. It presents a systematic review, covering 263 publications, with a particular focus on previous definitions and approaches, determinants that shape the experience, methodologies, and measurable outcomes.

David Gonçalves, Pedro Pais, Kathrin Gerling, Tiago Guerreiro, André Rodrigues

CHB 2023 ‑ Computers in Human Behavior, July, 2023

screenshot taken from the video game 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask'. The image shows the playable character, Link, swinging his sword besides a big pot in a swamp-like scenario. The player’s webcam is seen in the corner of the image, but their face is pixelated (anonymized).

“My Zelda Cane”: Strategies Used by Blind Players to Play Visual-Centric Digital Games

In this work, we analyze over 70 hours of YouTube videos, where blind content-creators play visual-centric games. We point out the various strategies employed by players to overcome barriers that permeate mainstream games. We reflect on ways to enable and improve blind players’ experience with these games, shedding light on the positive and negative consequences of apparently benign design choices. Our observations underline how game elements are appropriated for accessibility, the incidental consequences of audio design, and the trade-offs between accessibility, agency, and engagement.

David Gonçalves, Manuel Piçarra, Pedro Pais, João Guerreiro, André Rodrigues

CHI 2023 ‑ ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April, 2023

Best Paper Award

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