TEXT  |  Diminutive Subjects, Design Strategy, and Driving Sales : Preschoolers and the Nintendo DS

J. Alison Bryant, Anna Akerman, Jordana Drell

The International Journal of Computer Game Research
Volume 10, Issue 1, April 2010


For preschoolers in the United States, much of their game play is online with websites such as NickJr.com, PlayhouseDisney.com, PBSKids.com, SesameStreet.org, and Webkinz.com. Although there has been more preschool games developed for console and handheld devices. The iPhone and iPod Touch have become another platform for preschoolers to use. However, this article focuses on the development of preschool games for the Nintendo DS. The DS became the platform of choice because of the microphone feature, its small size and portability, and its relatively low cost.

Initial research on preschoolers assessed the range of physical and cognitive abilities associated with their specific developmental stage. The gross and fine motor function of preschool age children were studied in terms of how it would effect the development of a video game and its game play.

Field studies were conducted providing 26 homes with DS devices. Households were located in western, central, and eastern United States, ranging from families with only one child to households with multiple children to see what the influence of siblings were on game play and development.

Information was gathered in three methods. The first from parents and any older siblings, that controlled purchasing decisions, typical game play patterns, and the level of parental monitoring. The second method explored the ecology of gaming in the home and what type of spaces were used for game play. The third method was gathering game play data from each child.

The two years of research uncovered information and provided insight into how preschoolers interacted with various platforms. The research was consolidated into a top ten list.

Key Findings: Our Top Ten List
  1. The DS is about the coolest hand-me-down you can get
  2. Preschoolers cannot read, which means that all instructions need to be in voiceover and include visual representations
  3. Preschoolers may use the DS stylus or may use their fingers, or both! (Although they are not very accurate with either)
  4. Although preschoolers do not have trouble holding the small stylus, they do have difficulty making small movements that require fine motor skills. This means that the “hotspots” for interaction within the game must be forgiving for them (i.e., larger)
  5. While rhythm games seem ideal for the DS, and are very successful with older demographics, preschoolers find it difficult and frustrating to tap in a rhythm or on a beat
  6. The microphone is a big hit with preschoolers! They love to yell or blow into it and see the game respond
  7. Combining directional pad mechanics with stylus movements is a problem for young children
  8. Two-step processes (i.e., drag the item over here and then tap on it) are not as successful with preschoolers
  9. Preschoolers love immediate (and positive) responses to their actions
  10. Replayability is key with both parents and preschoolers

The research conducted was directly used to guide the development and game design of two preschool-targeted DS games, Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves the Mermaids and Go Diego, Go!: Safari Adventure.


The investigation was interesting in how it interrogated multiple aspects of preschoolers and their interaction with electronic media. The preschooler on a biological level was researched for their physical and cognitive abilities at this stage of life and development. The preschooler was also investigated at a more personal level in how their home environment was facilitating game play. Another critical point of research was the influence of parents and older siblings in not only game play but decision making in game purchasing.

In today’s media saturated world, how do preschoolers have a chance to exercise their curious nature, when before they even develop full motor function they have been studied on a physical and cognitive level to play in a prescribed manner and consume products specifically designed for them.


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