What is FLOW THEORY in game design? – The Basics – (Part 1)

An in depth look at the basics of Flow Theory in Game Design. We walk through the progression of getting a player into and keeping them in a flow state. Flow graphs are discussed in detail and the idea of Anxiety and Boredom in relation to challenge are covered.

Flow theory is a psychology theory that we can adapt in our game designs to create challenges that are catered to the skill level of our players. It is a fundamental theory that every game developer should have a good grasp on.

The idea of flow theory is to give a challenge to a player that is equal or slightly more difficult that the level of the players current skill. This will put the player into a flow state which is a state of heightened awareness. If we choose a challenge or task that is too easy, the player will fall into boredom and may abandon our games. If the challenge is too hard and the player’s skill isn’t developed enough, the player will fall into anxiety where they cannot overcome the challenge. This will make them frustrated, angry or fed up and they may leave.

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  1. AJ MARR 4 months ago

    Why the Flow Model is illogical: A contrarian perspective on Flow from the perspective of affective neuroscience

    On the surface, the graphical representation of the flow channel is simple to understand. When you arrange a demand/skill match, flow happens. For any task, the problem is that although demand moves up or down dependent upon the exigencies of the moment, skill should be relatively stable during or within the performance, and only change, and for the most part gradually between performances. Thus, one may accomplish a task that from moment to moment varies in demand, but the skills brought to that task are the same regardless of demand. What this means is that for any one-performance set, skill is not a variable, but a constant. That is, one cannot adjust skill against demand during performance because skill can only change negligibly during performance, or in other words does not move. Thus, for performance that requires any skill set, the only variable that can be manipulated is demand. For moment to moment behavior the adjustable variable that elicits flow is demand and demand alone. But that leaves us with figuring out what demand exactly is.
    A demand may be defined as simple response-outcome contingency. Thus, if you do X, Y will occur or not occur. It is thus inferred that demand entails a fully predictable means-end relationship or expectancy. But the inference that the act-outcome expectancy is always fully predictable is not true. Although a response-outcome is fully predictable when skill overmatches demand, as demand rises to match and surpass skill, uncertainty in the prediction of a performance outcome also rises. At first, the uncertainty is positive, and reaches its highest level when a skill matches the level of demand. This represents a ‘touch and go’ experience wherein every move most likely will result in a positive outcome in a calm or non-stressed state. It is here that many individuals report euphoric flow like states. Passing that, the moment-to-moment uncertainty of a bad outcome increases, along with a corresponding rise in tension and anxiety.
    Momentary positive uncertainty as a logical function of the moment to moment variance occurring when demand matches skill does not translate into a predictor for flow, and is ignored in Csikszentmihalyi’s model because uncertainty by implication does not elicit affect. Rather, affect is imputed to metaphorical concepts of immersion, involvement, and focused attention that are not grounded to any specific neurological processes. However, the fact that act-outcome discrepancy in relaxed states alone has been correlated with specific neuro-chemical changes in the brain that map to euphoric, involved, timeless , or immersive states, namely the co-activation of dopamine and opioid systems due to continuous positive act/outcome discrepancy and relaxation, narrows the cause of flow to abstract elements of perception rather than metaphorical aspects of performance. These abstract perceptual elements denote information and can easily be defined and be reliably mapped to behavior.
    A final perceptual aspect of demand that correlates with the elicitation of dopamine is the importance of the result or goal of behavior. Specifically, dopaminergic systems are activated by the in tandem perception of discrepancy and the predicted utility or value of result of a response contingency. The flow model maps behavior to demand and skill, but not only is skill fixed, so is the importance of the goal state that predicates demand. However, the relative importance of the goal state correlates with the intensity of affect. For example, representing a task that matches his skills, a rock climber calmly ascending a difficult cliff would be euphoric if the moment to moment result was high, namely avoiding a fatal fall, but would be far less so if he was attached to a tether, and would suffer only an injury to his pride is he were to slip. Finally, the flow experience correlates also with a state of relaxation and the concomitant activation of opioid systems along with a dopamine induced arousal state that together impart a feeling of euphoria, which would also be predicted as choices in flow are singular and clear and therefore avoid perseverative cognition. It is the sense of relaxation induced pleasure and a feeling of attentive arousal that constitutes the flow experience.

    This interpretation is based on the work of the distinguished neuroscientist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, who was kind to vet the work for accuracy and endorse the finished manuscript.
    Berridge’s Site

    I offer a more detailed theoretical explanation in pp. 47-52, and pp 82-86 of my open source book on the neuroscience of resting states, ‘The Book of Rest’, linked below.

    The Psychology of Rest

  2. PrincessNia 4 months ago

    While the flow theory is a nice place to start…

    y'know how they always say "rules are meant to be broken"?

    Well a lot of the games that I remember really enjoying are the kinds that I have to drop for like, an entire day and come back with a new strategy


  3. Daniel Lim 4 months ago

    My professor showed this video in class today. She was teaching the concept of flow. The class is 'Social psychology of New Media.' Your video thoroughly captivated me – it was so, so interesting and you made the concept very easy to understand. I cannot believe this video only has 2.5k views. You totally need to get viral. Great content.

  4. War Tome 4 months ago

    I was the downvote.

    The what you reclassify everything into the flow state is dumb.

    It also doesn’t take into account my son and daughter who have completely different play skills.

    Ever since they been teaching game design; games have been getting worse. The “loops” are created like this rather then thinking about “fun” like they used too.

    It’s like you are truth to tell an artist they have to draw the way you do. Not because they should but because you labeled everything in a way that prevents any other way.

    It’s a very leftist thing to do. Anyways, if yours truly a discussion on it; let me know.

  5. CRISPERU TV 4 months ago

    so basically that means that a good player is gonna also be frustrated for times ? whats the point then of been good at the game

  6. Dave 97 4 months ago

    whats the game? 5:47 and 1:02

  7. AndreyGhost 4 months ago

    Noice vid.

  8. Alexander Pavlovsky 4 months ago

    Awesome channel! I hope to see more stuff from you m8.

  9. superspinmove 4 months ago

    Hey man, checked out your channel from your comment on that Mark Brown video… so glad I did!  Such a great vid, definitely deserving of more subs haha

  10. Espen Dammen 4 months ago

    Good video. Glad to see you're back!

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