Seven, plus or minus two

I’m going to take advantage of the writings of George A Miller, the author of a 1956 paper regarding the number of digits people can recall from short-term memory. The conclusion of this is, basically, that people can recall strings of between five and nine digits, it’s quite famous, and it’s the reason that telephone numbers are only ever 6-7 digits long.

I’m going to use this to say that the number of discrete ‘things’ that need to be remembered whilst playing should be in this 5-9 region, we just don’t have the mental dexterity to manage more streams of information than this. If you want a simple game, it should tend to the lower end of the spectrum, and more complex games tend to the higher.

If you design games which require the players to recall the values of 8-9 constantly changing ‘things’, you should be prepared for slowdowns in play as the numbers are recorded on sheets of paper, and as the dread analysis paralysis rears its ugly head, as the optimal result is vainly sought. You will probably also reduce your potential source of players, the pool or people who can handle 9 ‘things’ is much smaller than those comfortable with 5-6 ‘things’.


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