Flow Genres: The Varieties of Video Game Experience

Flow Genres: The Varieties of Video Game Experience

Ondřej Hrabec, Vladimír Chrz
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2015010101
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The goal of this theoretical study is to conceptually revise the flow theory formulated originally by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Concept of flow is one of the most frequently used terms that describe an optimal experience while performing activity and this does not apply only for video game industry. In this article we discuss the varieties of flow experience with respect to video games. Further, the authors emphasize relativity of the original concept of flow, understood as a universal experience of independent nature in terms of activity or personality of the participant. Following detailed analysis of existing literature and our previous empirical study, they define the concept of flow as a genre triad that portrays experience of climax, ilinx, and ludic trance. A further revision and extension of the original concept of flow is deemed necessary in order to map the variety of user experiences while playing video games with sufficient precision.
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The concept of flow, introduced to the field of psychology in the 80´s and 90´s of the last century, has been widely used for interpretation of a deep interest and enjoyment while performing various activities. Further, this concept influenced the field of game studies and game design significantly, where it has become very useful for understanding enjoyable experience (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003). The reason for such success can be observed already at the very beginning of flow theory. The author of the flow concept, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), based his research conclusions on interviews with a very heterogeneous group of participants (e.g. surgeons, musicians, mountain climbers), where part of the group was also composed of players (chess players). Based on the analysis of participant´s answers, Csikszentmihalyi came to surprising conclusion that the optimal experience comprises common features for a wide variety of activities. The purpose of this article is to argue against this conclusion. We will analyze main drawbacks of this original formulation of the theory that explains flow as a universal experience that conveys same attributes without noticeable differences of peculiar game genres or without considering specific personality traits of a player. We will emphasize diversity in game experience that requires modification of flow in the context of video games. These ideas, along with results of our previous work (Hrabec, 2012)1, lead to the proposal of conceptually more accurate flow model.

The purpose of this study is to differentiate a wide range of optimal experiences that are combined frequently into common and vague concept of flow. We argue that such differentiation can serve as a useful tool for analyzing game experience, investigating typology of players, or game development.

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