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Cognitive Task Analysis: Analyzing the Cognition of Gameplay & Game Design

2013; IITSEC; Gallagher P.S.; Prestwich, S.

A prior study performed by ADL Initiative, which measured the effects of certain video game design features thought to increase cognitive adaptability, brought to light how little is understood of the cognitive elements of video games, even by those who design them, let alone those who wish to study them or utilize them for learning or improving cognitive functioning. It has long been standard practice by instructional designers and those in industrial/organizational psychology to utilize a process known as cognitive task analysis (CTA) in order to analyze the cognitive and behavioral requirements of an expert-level performance of a certain task. They are broadly recognized as an effective tool for cognitive mapping. The ADL Initiative researchers scoured the existing base of research in industrial/organizational psychology, cognitive psychology, and gaming, as well as consulted with experts in the video game industry, and found that no efforts to apply CTA methods to or cognitively map a video game - identifying and enumerating on features such as implicit and explicit rules and reinforcement, rule and environment shifts, audio and visual cues, behavioral and cognitive requirements of players, and goals, sub-goals, and micro-puzzles - in order to analyze the cognitive effects of its design could be found. It was towards the end of filling these gaps in knowledge about the cognitive makeup of Portal 2, as well as developing a methodology for applying CTA techniques to video games for future research and utilization for learning, that the researchers at the ADL Initiative are undertaking an effort to perform a cognitive task analysis on Portal 2 play. This paper details the novel methods the team has developed, both by adapting traditional CTA methods to analyze the cognitive requirements of gameplay as well as creating techniques to capture the cognitive effects of unique video game design principles, as well as initial findings.