A few months ago, I did a big honkin’ paper on Usability for (you guessed it) Usability class. We covered a number of things – my favorite being the concept of FIERO!.

For the uninitiated, FIERO! is an Italian word that can be roughly translated to “personal triumph”, and is part of Nicole Lazarro’s (XEODDesign) four different emotions that a player will experience when playing a game. FIERO! usually emerges when a mechanic that requires mastery is executed properly. And yes, grammar police, I feel very strongly that it must always read as FIERO!, regardless of sentence structure. If my Usability teacher (who was not a rocket scientist, but a ROCKET DOCTOR that made friggin’ rockets more usable for NASA) could handle my shenanigans, so can you. Oh and just in case you were wondering, Rocket Doctor > Rocket Scientist.

This was pretty much my Usability teacher.

But I digress…

Tonight, my little two-year old climbed up in my lap and started chatting me up about Thomas the Tank Engine, Mega Blocks, and the finer points of eating carpet lint. For those of you who have children, you understand what a miracle it is to have your toddler calmly sit on your lap and just spend some time chilling with you.

Not wanting this glorious moment to pass as quickly as it usually does, I started letting him play with the ultimate 21st century parenting aid – the iPhone. Lately we’ve been playing with the bubble wrap app, but he was getting a bit antsy. As a last ditch desperate plea for his attention, I pulled up Fruit Ninja, set it to Zen mode, and started swiping at fruit. He watched for about five seconds, and then started stabbing at the screen with his stubby little fingers (OMG HE HAS THE CUTEST LITTLE FINGERS). I had to show him that this game required swiping, as opposed to jabbing. Tentatively he swiped, and took out a banana.

He. Flipped. Out.


It was the most amazing thing he had ever done. There he sat, on my lap, swiping at fruit, calling out the names of the fruit that he knew, brow furiously furrowed as he swiped at fruit.

Not many games are very usable to the beginning gamer. You can read a bit more about this specific topic on my blog, but many games just fall short. Mostly the problem is that they don’t provide proper feedback. It’s hard for a non gamer to know if they did something right, did something wrong, or did nothing at all. A good GUI can go a long way towards getting this right, but there is also the visceral feel of a game that you need to take in to account. Gamers often talk about the “feel” of a specific gun in a FPS – it’s floaty, there’s no weight, no oomph. Basically all they are trying to say is that it doesn’t “feel” like they are firing a gun. Every gun has a different appearance, weight, sound, and action to it, and it’s our job to bring those feelings out. Much like in film special effects, if just ONE thing is out of place, we’ll notice – even if we don’t know what it is.


But let’s get back to Fruit Ninja. Fruit Ninja is a really great game. You slice the fruit and there is a very satisfying splatter, the sound of the knife slicing the fruit is totally gratuitous, and the crumbly pieces fall off screen evenly to let you know in no uncertain terms that you just sliced that fruit.

When you hit more than two fruit in a row you get a little animation that tells you how awesome you are for slicing three, four, five in a row – and this is where I saw my son experience FIERO! for the first time.

He was slicing at fruit, missing a lot of them, but getting some. I honestly didn’t think that he would do as well as he was. He was laughing, and commenting at how awesome he thought it was. Then it happened.

He sliced one little finger across the screen, hitting three in a row. The animation went off, his eyes lit up, he rocked back, screamed in joy, and clapped his hands. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.


Gamers experience FIERO! constantly. Ezio sinking his hidden blade in to the throat of an unsuspecting guard, pulling a double head shot in a multiplayer match, killing the archdemon – these are experiences that make us smile to ourselves and feel satisfied. Many gamers have gamed for way too long to have such unadulterated joy at every moment of FIERO!.


Not long after his first ever FIERO!, he started playing the game by holding my iPhone. He settled in, his breathing normalized, his eyes drooped, and he sank in to nirvana. After two games he learned that when the timer turned red the game was about to end, causing him to start slashing frantically. He learned the pause button by the fourth game, and by the fifth he knew how to reload the entire thing.


Our first FIERO! doesn’t last long – over a very short period, our feelings become dulled. Fruit Ninja is a very usable game, and it was able to teach my toddler how to use an app like a champ in less than 5 minutes. Maybe more games could learn from such a simple little app.

Looking through all that I’ve written down here tonight, I’m not sure what my overall point is. In a way, it’s about the state of Usability in modern games. Many games are near impossible for newcomers to pick up, and that’s sad. In another way, it’s a lesson for how we can look at the simplest sources and see success – success worth mimicking when making our games.

Let's make more of these moments...

Lastly, it’s kind of a love letter to our first FIERO! moment. As I watched my son clap his hands with joy when he instantly recognized the first positive feedback system a game had ever given him, I felt my eyes get a little misty. Partly because I was proud to have been there when it happened. But also partly because it has been so long since a game made me that ebullient, that I would give back a thousand hidden blade assassinations for just one more true FIERO!. So maybe that’s what this is really about. How do we make FIERO! as amazing as the first time? Is it possible, or are we just tilting at windmills? Discuss.