Is There A Problem with Superimposed Icons?

I understood interface as the hardware the player interacts with that grants them accessibility into the game world. However, after reading GameWorld Interfaces by Krisitine Jørgensen my definition of interface has become more complicated. Jørgensen describes the gameworld as an interface in which the player interacts with cues and symbols in the gameworld to play the game. She calls them “superimposed icons” and mentions that game designers debate about their aesthetic during game play. Opponents contest that embedding these designs into gameplay interrupts the player’s gameplay experience. However, Proponents assert that keeping “superimposed” mechanics not only helps the player throughout the game, but keeps them immersed in the game. In my experience with gaming I have found that icons, symbols, and cues have actually benefited my game play experience.


Figure 1.0 Notice how the “b” button appears when the enemy is weak. When the player presses this button consistently they perform what is known as a torture attack. In this case, Bayonetta will kick her enemies rear end. The faster the player taps the button the faster she will kick.

One of my favorite games is Bayonetta in which the player is typically given symbols and cues to perform attacks. For example, to do Bayonetta’s punish and torture attacks (figure 1.0) one must rapidly tap the button that appears on the screen. Whenever I play the game I find that these quick appearing symbols keep me immersed. This is because I am physically engaged and rewarded with points whenever I do these special executions. From what I understand, some game designers would argue that those symbols interrupt my gameplay experience. They would say that those symbols remind me I am playing a game. Moreover, the symbols are problematic because the game should resemble realism. While I can see their point, those symbols have not stopped me from enjoying my games thus far. In addition, these cues and symbols have actually helped me throughout the game. For example, when I walk over to certain locations a controller button symbol would appear. In doing so, I know there is something special hidden inside objects or behind doors. In my opinion, those symbols are truly beneficial because I find some really cool weapons, items, etc. Most importantly, they help me navigate throughout the game.


Although that is my experience I would like to also consider the opposing perspective. What does it mean to be in a game without so many superimposed icons? Games without so many icons may make the player feel as though they are entering a new world. Doing so, may make the experience of gameplay “real” and engaging. For example, Jørgensen mentions that King Kong is a great representation of this experience (figure 2.0 below).

King Kong image.jpg

Figure 2.0 Players in King Kong do not get a cursor when aiming. In addition, action icons whenever she is near an item.

When players are playing King Kong, controller buttons do not appear on the screen. A player can walk over to a pile of spears pick them up and throw it at enemies. These actions never occur with symbols or cues. What is also interesting is that when the player taking aim at an enemy they do it without a icon or symbol. For some players this may be more engaging and gives the player agency.

So now, I turn to you all. I am curious to know what others think. Have superimposed icons ever distracted you from immersing in a game? If so, how?




One thought on “Is There A Problem with Superimposed Icons?

  1. I agree that although superimposable icons can be helpful gameplay aids, they can also detract from the immersive experiences video game designers aim to create in their games. Perhaps more games should have options for removing these icons during gameplay. An example is the new God of War game, which has the option of removing all HUD elements with its ‘Immersive’ setting.


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