Natural in the eyes of the (be)holder: A survey on novelty and learning effects in the enjoyment of naturally mapped video game controllers.

Benny Liebold, Nicholas D. Bowman, Daniel Pietschmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Video games can be understood as a series of interesting decisions, and the game controllers are key to making those decisions. Advances in gaming technology have encouraged the development of natural user interfaces (NUIs), which should provide a superior user experience as players are able to use preexisting mental models from physical interaction rather than learning an abstract mapping schema. However, anecdotal and previous empirical research suggest the opposite—gamers prefer more familiar-albeit-abstract gamepad controllers. Because the exact nature and mechanism of this preference remains open for investigation, we suggest two rivaling mechanisms related to novelty and learning. Comparing self-identified gamer regarding their last gamepad and NUIs experience in an online quasi-experimental survey design (N = 248), participants in the current study had less experience using NUIs, resulting in lower self-efficacy and enjoyment. Learning effects (via experience with a controller), rather than novelty effects (via exposure to a unique controller), seem to be the most relevant mechanism to understanding how controllers impact game enjoyment. However, both controller novelty and learning effects were significant mediators of the link between controller type and perceived controller naturalness. Our data suggest that perceptions of “natural” do not only depend on technological features of a user interface, but also on the user’s previous experiences with the device. As such, users need to build robust mental models of the controllers through experience, which over time become more natural with increasing proficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-265
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology of Popular Media
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • game controllers
  • learning
  • natural mapping
  • novelty
  • video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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