Flow as Fun

People associate many feelings with “fun”, the sense of timelessness, of being at one, of exhilaration, focus, immediacy. All of these are characteristic of "fun".

There is a universal agreement that without a dynamic balance between the challenge of an activity and the ability to meet that challenge, fun is something we are definitely not having. Interestingly, making it possible for anyone to find exactly the right amount of challenge to engage with the exact abilities is the only way to access Flow. This means that when work is fun we have created complex, but negotiable challenges, challenges that allow the individual to engage or disengage, to work harder or work safer. [Dekoven]

At this point, fun can be defined as Flow, a balance of the relationship between challenge and ability.

Elements of Flow

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's well-documented research and wide-scale gathering of personal observations, the phenomenology of Flow has eight major components.

  1. A challenge activity that requires skills
  2. The merging of action and awareness
  3. Clear goals
  4. Direct feedback
  5. Concentration on the task at hand
  6. The sense of control
  7. The loss of self-consciousness
  8. The transformation of time

Not all of these components are needed for flow to be experienced. [Csikszentmihalyi 1990]

Once we have digested the above components and revisited them with a game design perspective, here are the three core elements a video game must have in order to evoke Flow experience.

  1. As a premise, the game is intrinsically rewarding, and the player is up to play the game.
  2. The game offers right amount of challenges to match with the player’s ability, which allows him/her to delve deeply into the game.
  3. The player needs to feel a sense of personal control over the game activity.

As a result, the game will make player lose track of time and self-consciousness.

To make a game that different people can enjoy, the game itself must retain these four elements, especially to adjust the challenge based on each player’s ability.

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, also known as DDA, is a fairly straightforward and ideal concept in the game design field. The difficulty of a game should change dynamically based on its player’s skill and performance.

However, designing and implementing a DDA system is not trivial. Every so often, DDA systems take control away from the game designers, which potentially causes more problems than a linear game. Few commercial developers have implemented DDA systems for their games, and even fewer have shipped them. [Arey & Wells 2001]

Over all DDA is just part of the core elements of Flow, it cannot stand-alone and reach Flow by itself. Rather than focusing on designing a DDA system for games, designing a general Flow system based on all core elements will be more direct and useful for the game designers