Straightforward and comprehensive
For first time players of a game-based experience, I cannot recommend enough to pick an easy, straightforward and simple narrative and game system to introduce them to the joy of gaming. Especially if it’s a one-time experience for them, as with certain learning & development workshops. It’s an absolute must, nothing is more daunting or alienating than being overwhelmed with a complex game system.
If you’re not sure about how to choose and what to avoid, then I suggest that you avoid any narrative and/or experience that has any difficult to understand or highly specific sector or industry jargon. Having to learn the specific terms for say mining equipment in a mining-crisis simulation experience will usually break the immersion for the first-time gamer. This is not to say to avoid those narrative and genre’s completely, but rather to avoid those aspects that aren’t familiar to the average person.
Naturally, there is an exception to this if your objective is to teach something specific, such as the use of those terms or concepts within either a corporate environment or school classroom environment. Or if its educational such as taking on the role of a historical figure, for augmenting a classroom teaching session. If those are the cases, then I do recommend that the material, and characters (if needed) be pre-created and that the information required by the players is limited to something that can fit onto an A6 or A7 page. Anything larger will again become intimidating, regardless of age or educational level.
With that, also pick the right narrative and genre for the group. Check with your players ahead of time and find out what their preferences. Just because you enjoy a good noir crime thriller narrative (i.e. gruesome murder mysteries), it does not mean that everyone enjoys them, unfortunately.
This is especially important when it comes to learning objectives, as within classrooms and business simulations. Since it is more effective to choose narratives and genre’s where the players can remain themselves and go into a recognized contemporary narrative world. This way they have an easier time of buying in and immersing into the experience.
Player comfort levels
As I mentioned above, it is always an extremely good idea to check-in with your players (if possible) ahead of time when preparing a game-based experience. Doing research and questioning your players will help you flag up any comfort issues that your players, such as the example of not enjoying crime thrillers. But also, it may bring the front anything else that may be difficult for them, narrative or otherwise, such accessibility issues that you need to be aware of.
This is important both academic and business environments, if you work within K-12 environments then knowing issues in advance is for the benefit of child safety. And if it is in business (schools), then you will be aware of any sensitive issues that the corporate environment may be dealing with or need to avoid due to a specific project or the like.
As a disclaimer, if there are any truly serious issues that arise when you do your preliminary research, ahead of delivering the experience, then you will need to asses their gravity. It may require you to rethink whether the chosen narrative, the experience or even the concept of the experience may need to change. You may even need to consider whether a game-based experience is even the right thing to deliver to this group?
The final thing I want to say about player comfort may be an obvious one, but it can sometimes be missed the excitement of the experience. But always make sure you incorporate restroom breaks, as well as food and drink break. And this is true for all ages and environments, this truth does not change with what you may believe is appropriate behavior for that age or station. The reality is that inside everyone there is an angry, hungry 2-year-old waiting to scream if they don’t get their scheduled break.