The Perception, Attention, Memory Game UX Framework

The Acagamic Tip Tuesday #60

An AI-generated image of a smart UX research girl. Smart UX research girl thinking about the PAM framework

In today’s issue, I want to explain the PAM framework to you, which stands for Perception, Attention, and Memory. Understanding how human cognition affects gameplay will be helpful to identify any potential issues in your game.Unfortunately, many game UX researchers find themselves caught in the design process labyrinth. They must manage fragmented player feedback, decipher complex game mechanics, and sometimes overlook the three pillars that truly make a game memorable: perception, attention, and memory. Taking a closer look at these cognitive cornerstones, let’s see how they contribute to a player-centric experience.

There are three vital aspects of human cognition to consider in game UX: perception, attention, and memory. Let’s break these three aspects down in the PAM framework.


Perception is subjective and is a construction of the mind. We perceive our environment by interpreting sensory information. In game design, this refers to how players interpret visual, auditory, and even haptic feedback. Players may perceive the same game elements differently based on their prior knowledge, their emotional connection to the game, and even their biology (for example, colour blindness). It is possible for a player who is unfamiliar with the game to interpret an object differently than an experienced player, even if the object is visually the same. To indicate tasks that players can interact with, the developers of the game “Among Us” use simple visual cues. Bright yellow exclamation marks distinguish the tasks from the rest of the environment. Players who are new to the game can quickly see what they can interact with. To ensure players understand the meaning of icons (or UI elements), the design team must change them to something more universally recognizable. UI elements in games may be familiar to players from different cultures at different levels, which is especially important for games aimed at international audiences. All changes to UI elements in the game must be thoroughly tested by the developers to ensure maximum accessibility.


Attention resources are scarce. Too many options or choices can easily overwhelm people, causing confusion and frustration. When people experience what is known as “choice overload”, or when they are presented with more options than they desire, they can face negative outcomes such as regret, dissatisfaction, and even paralysis. In cognitive terms, attention refers to selectively focusing on one aspect of the environment while ignoring others. “Paradox of Choice” refers to the phenomenon in which having more choices leads to poorer decisions and less satisfaction. The more choices available, the more cognitive effort required to make a decision, which can cause people to become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision. To make sure players notice crucial elements in games, designers often guide their attention. For example, in the “Call of Duty” series, important objects or locations are often highlighted or marked to draw players’ attention. These visual cues assist players in focusing their attention where it’s needed most during high-stress situations. It is impossible for humans to multitask effectively, and they can only focus on one or two elements at a time. Especially during critical learning phases, game developers must ensure that players aren’t overwhelmed with too much information at once.


Memory is fallible and a reconstruction of the mind. Reconstructing a memory can be inaccurate, and we forget many things over time. Memory is not like a recording device, but rather a process of encoding, storing, and retrieving data. In other words, our memories are constantly being reconstructed, leading to inaccuracies and omissions. Providing players with information in the game interface reduces the memory load, which is why it is crucial in game design. Designers often have to take into account both short-term (or “working”) memory and long-term memory when designing games. A game like “Legend of Zelda” provides players with maps and notebooks so that they can keep track of information, thus reducing the burden on their memory. Despite this, “Dark Souls” deliberately lacks guidance, and players are expected to remember the layout of the vast, interconnected world, which contributes to its high difficulty level. The Fortnite heads-up display, however, saves crafting recipes so players don’t have to keep track of them.

Human Cognition in Games

Understanding human cognition—specifically perception, attention, and memory—is critical to video game user experience (UX) research. UX researchers must account for the cognitive capacities of players when evaluating game designs, just as architects must account for the limitations of a building’s foundation. Inherently subjective, perception can vary greatly between players. UX researchers must develop game elements that are universally understandable, and make them easy to process through the use of clear visuals and sounds. Another key consideration is the limited amount of attention available. Games should not overwhelm players with excessive information, especially during critical learning phases. A UX researcher can help identify areas of the game where the player’s focus is divided and suggest improvements like visual cues or highlighting key objects. In consideration of memory’s fallibility, it shouldn’t be overtaxed. Using in-game aids reduces memory load.

Perception, attention, and memory are the three components of human cognition, and they all interact with one another. In interpreting sensory information, perception serves as a gateway to understanding the world. Our attention then directs our cognitive resources toward focusing on specific aspects of our perceived environment. Our memory encodes, stores, and retrieves the information that our attention has highlighted. In this delicate dance, perception sets the scene, attention focuses the spotlight, and memory choreographs the performance over time. They influence our experiences, guide our actions, and ultimately determine our reality.

Identifying and evaluating these cognitive limitations can help UX researchers create more engaging, immersive, and user-friendly games. This human-centered approach not only anticipates potential problems, but also reduces player confusion, resulting in enjoyable, successful, and successful games.

UX researchers should take the following actions:

  • Test game elements regularly to ensure they are easy to understand and easy to implement.
  • Check for areas where players’ attention is being divided or overloaded during gameplay.
  • Consider providing in-game tools or aids to reduce memory load.
  • When evaluating game designs and providing feedback, remember players’ cognitive limitations.
Lennart Nacke, PhD
Lennart Nacke, PhD

Hey there, I am a Professor and the Research Director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I am a world-leading expert on what makes games engaging and how we can use them to improve products, systems, and services. My research is widely discussed and recognized by the New Yorker, Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CTV News, New Scientist, The Daily Mail, PC Gamer Magazine, and elsewhere. I have edited a textbook on Games User Research and authored hundreds of academic articles in gamification, user experience research, human-computer interaction, and game design.