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The Relationship Between

Video Game Flow and Structure

Jayne Gackenbach

 

Department of Psychology

Grant MacEwan College

 

Poster presented at the 2007 International Communication Association Meeting, San Francisco, CA

 

Introduction

 

In a series of studies the author has been investigating the effects of video game play on various measures of consciousness. In the present study consciousness was conceptualized as psychological flow. This experience of flow has oft been reported in the sport and media literatures and has been reported as a result of or simultaneous with video game play. The structural characteristics of gaming have been much studied as well, but the point of this inquiry is to ask are there structural characteristics of games that are more or less likely to be associated with the experience of psychological flow during game play?

 

Psychological Flow

 

  • ·        Flow consists of three major components, the merging of action and awareness, a sense of control and an altered sense of time.
  • ·      Conditions for flow: a clear set of goals; a balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills; and the presence of clear and immediate feedback.

 

Flow and Media Use

 

  • ·       Csikszentmihalyi, et al. (2005) argue that cultures select artifacts as a function of the degree to which their use elicits flow.
  • ·        Theme is picked up in the communication studies literature which has examined the relationship between flow and media enjoyment.
  • ·        Flow may account for media enjoyment.
  • ·        Not all media experiences are enjoyable no less bring on feelings of flow.
  • ·        Flow in computer use is associated with online web experience, hackers motivation, use of a broad range of information technologies, and internet based education.
  • ·       “Some might comment that Csikszentmihalyi seemed to have video games in mind when he developed the concept of flow” (Sherry 2004; p. 339).
  • ·        Several video game researchers have noted such a relationship.

 

Structural Characteristics of Gaming

 

  • ·        Structural characteristics of gaming has largely focused upon elements which affect real life such as violence, sex role stereotypes or play performance (e.g., point of view and image quality).
  • ·        General structural preferences have also been examined.
  • ·        In gambling literature structural characteristics have been well documented in terms of their role in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behavior.

 

Thus the question posed in the present inquiry is, what is the relationship between video game structure and flow during gaming?

 

Method

 

Participants

 

  • ·        Data was collected from online questionnaires from 464 participants.

 

Materials

 

  • ·        Informed consent.
  • ·        Questionnaire including demographics and typical video game play.
  • ·        Structural Preferences Questionnaire dealt with sound, graphics, background and setting, duration of game, rate of play, advancement rate, use of humor, control options, game dynamics, winning and losing features, character development, and multiplayer features.
  • ·       Video Game Play and Flow Scale with two of the seven subscales dealt with addiction. The flow subscales included concentration, playfulness, distortion in time, telepresence, and exploratory behavior.

Results

 

Video game groups were defined by frequency of play, length of typical play session, age begun play with high scores given to younger starts, number of types of games played, length of last video game played, and age of peak frequency of video game play (younger ages higher).

 

Video Game Flow

 

  • ·       Because there were two conceptual types of flow scales (flow and addiction) total mean flow scores for each group of subscales were calculated.
  • ·        Video game group ANCOVA’s with sex and motion sickness controlled. Both resulted in video game group differences: flow, F(3,202)= 2.932, p<.05; addiction, F(3,202)= 3.844, p<.01.
  • ·        High players reported more flow during play while for the addiction subscales mean high game players reported lower scores than low game players.
  • ·        High game players experience flow but not addiction.

 

Table 1: Flow Subscale Means as a Function of Video Game Group

 

Flow Subscales

Video Game Group

Mean[1]

Standard Deviation

N

flow addiction

Low Video Gamers

3.0990

2.09327

101

 

High Video Gamers

3.1841

1.54074

105

flow concentration

Low Video Gamers

4.1312

1.84817

101

 

High Video Gamers

4.7429

1.47473

105

flow salience (also addiction)

Low Video Gamers

3.1832

2.17368

101

 

High Video Gamers

3.6405

1.64446

105

flow playfulness

Low Video Gamers

3.0545

2.19078

101

 

High Video Gamers

3.5000

1.77582

105

flow telepresence

Low Video Gamers

3.1010

2.21840

101

 

High Video Gamers

2.7429

1.63888

105

flow exploratory

Low Video Gamers

3.5730

2.05170

101

 

High Video Gamers

4.3048

1.69867

105

flow distortion

Low Video Gamers

4.4191

2.03996

101

 

High Video Gamers

5.0159

1.65016

105


 

Video Game Play Structure Preferences

      

To reduce this data a factor analysis of these items was computed from the replies of the lower and upper third video game groups (263 subjects).

  • ·       Factor 1 is a “General Gaming” factor including a wide range of items related to the gaming experience.
  • ·       Factor 2 is best identified as related to the “Realism” of the game environment.
  • ·       Factor 3 deals with “Multiplayer” elements.
  • ·       Factor 4’s emphasis is on “Puzzle” qualities of gaming.
  • ·       Factor 5 is about “Glitz” or glamour of the game elements.
  • ·       Factor 6, deals with the various game “Obstacles”.

       The video game structure factor scores were computed and were examined as a function of game player group with sex of participant and motion sickness as covariates in an ANCOVA.

Three of the six ANCOVA’s were significant (General Gaming F(3, 229)= 19.026, p<.0001; Multiplayer F(3, 229)= 12.937, p<.0001; Puzzle (F(3, 229)= 11.080, p<.0001). Not surprisingly in each case frequent gamers had a higher preference for each structural component.

 

Flow and Structure

    

Based upon the previous findings of flow and structure differences as a function of video game group, one might expect there to be a direct relationship between flow and structure. This was examined with a factor analysis on the high and low video game groups combined for the flow subscales and the structure factor scores.

 

Table 2: Factor Analysis of Flow Subscales and Structure Factor Scores

 

 

Factors

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

flow concentration

.906

.078

.113

-.031

-.019

.036

flow addiction

.911

-.166

-.060

.073

.050

-.002

flow salience

.946

-.024

.019

.092

.037

.022

flow playfulness

.937

-.051

-.004

.121

.013

.014

flow telepresence

.879

-.173

-.190

.092

-.043

.034

flow exploratory

.944

.090

.083

.047

.041

.058

flow distortion

.852

.103

.123

-.056

.082

.019

flow sum score

.995

-.024

.011

.055

.025

.028

structure factor 1 score general gaming

-.049

.989

-.001

.017

.005

.007

structure factor 2 score realism

-.295

-.034

.102

.218

-.796

.116

structure factor 3 score multiplayer

.079

-.001

.972

-.034

-.024

-.024

structure factor 4 score puzzle

-.387

-.055

.160

.416

.596

.187

structure factor 5 score glitz

-.248

-.025

.058

-.877

.085

.069

structure factor 6 score obstacles

.109

.008

-.025

-.045

-.027

.972

 

 

Discussion

 

     High video game players, as defined by a variety of variables, reported more overall flow and preferences for several structural elements of games than those who were low video gamers. Additionally the relationship between flow and game structure was examined. It is concluded that flow is not especially associated with any one structural element of a game except perhaps not being a puzzle like game. This puzzle factor included finding things, collecting things, solving puzzles, and hidden areas in games. These seem to identify a factor associated with more thinking than the other structural factors and thus the low score of the puzzle structure factor associated with flow. Flow after all does have a thinking component to a certain degree but is generally only experienced when one gets beyond the thinking aspect to the task mastery aspect. Thus all games once they are played with sufficient frequency lead to this state of consciousness, no matter the structure of the game, just as playing music or participating in sports does.



[1] All group means are significantly different at the p<.05 level or less.

 

 

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