A “formal/functional” approach has arguably been one of the central threads in cognitive film theory.1 The approach, broadly construed, assumes that formal elements and structures of film function to elicit specific effects in audience members, and this perspective has been taken in work on, for example, narrative,2 character predicaments and emotion,3

and characters and sympathy,4 to name some of the main areas of study. The formal/functional perspective is adopted in this chapter to show the way in which the formal structures of many video games fit with fundamental structures of human cognition. The chapter thus gives a bare bones sketch of a cognitive poetics of video games: video-game design is, like other mass and popular arts, craftsmanship under specific conditions.5

An important cross-cultural aspect of these conditions is human cognition, in that cognition both constrains and enables successful video-game design. I will focus on certain video-game genres, mainly action and adventure, and this will gloss over many nuances: the purpose is not to defend general claims about all video games but rather to show the relevance of particular aspects of cognitive theory, which have not yet been at the forefront of