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Keep Your Players Flowing

What’s the Flow?

The concept of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) defines the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is a state of complete absorption with the activity at hand. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. For purposes of this article, we’ll simplify it asserting that Flow is the Optimum Challenge.

Why is the Flow Important for Us?

Because when we enter the Flow, we feel intrinsically motivated and happier, which is related to our perception of fun. As a side note, you’ll always want your players to be as much intrinsically motivated as possible, and since it is hard enough to foster intrinsic motivation, this is another reason why the state of Flow is an important game design element.

What Are the Requirements of the Flow?

1. Clear Goals and Progress

The player must know what is she trying to achieve and how to track her progress.

2. Clear and Immediate Feedback

This helps the player react to changing demands and allows her to adjust her performance to maintain the flow state.

3. Optimum Level of Difficulty

The player must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and her own perceived skills. The player must have confidence that she is capable to do the task at hand. We must ensure that we are communicating to the players correctly the difficulty of the task, and that they are able to evaluate accurately their level of skill. If they fail to understand one of these two things, the Flow state will be much more difficult to achieve, and it will be lost easier.

How Do I Get Players in the Flow?

Players enter and stay in the Flow when the game offers them the Optimum Challenge, this is to say, a balance between the difficulty of the task against their skill. The comparison of difficulty-skill will determine how the game experience will be (see the image below). Through his research, Csikszentmihalyi identified eight different experiences. I encourage you to think of examples of each one as your read them:

  • Low challenges versus high skills can serve as relaxing experiences.
  • Low challenges versus moderate skills lead to boredom.
  • Low challenges versus low skills give place to apathy.
  • Moderate challenges versus low skills foster worry and concern.
  • Moderate challenges versus high skills create experiences of control.
  • High challenges versus low skills make the players feel anxious.
  • High challenges versus moderate skills create activation
  • High challenges versus high skills enable the players to enter in the Flow.

Game Experiences

Remember that “High challenges versus high skills” doesn’t mean that the task is very difficult per se. If the player doesn’t know anything about your game, learning even the basics can be a challenging task, no matter if these basics are really simple. On a side note, this is out of the scope of this article, but I figured it would be worth to mention that there are more elements you should consider when creating your game experience, namely that it should be able to be perceived as challenging for inexperienced players while not resulting too easy for the experienced players. If the new players find it too difficult or if the experienced players feel you are insulting their skills, there is a good chance that they will abandon your game. It doesn’t mean that you should satisfy them all; rather, there are techniques that allow for experienced users to squeeze more performance out of a system when interacting with it, which new users don’t even are aware of.

How Do I Keep Players in the Flow?

As players repeat the activities of the game, they improve their skill. In order to keep them in a state of flow, the difficulty of the activities must rise to match their skill. If the difficulty of the activities doesn’t change, eventually the player will move from a “High challenges versus high skills” experience (Flow) to a “Low Difficulty with High Skill” experience (boredom). If the difficulty rises too fast, the player will end up in a “High challenges versus low skills” experience (anxiety).

Conclusions

We want our players to enter the state of Flow. We will get them there by presenting them with challenges that match perfectly their skills. As players play our game, their skill improves, so we will need to rise the challenge to keep them engaged.

Bibliography

Books

Enrique G. Fernández, Mº Dolores Martín, Javier Domínguez, “Psychological Processes” Donald A. Norman, “The Psychology of Everyday Things”

Websites

George Fan, “How I Go my Mom to play Plants vs. Zombies” Wikipedia, “Flow (Psychology)” Wikipedia “Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”

El efecto novedad

En el contexto de la Psicología, el efecto novedad es la tendencia de un individuo a experimentar la respuesta más fuerte la primera vez que se enfrenta a una experiencia potencialmente desafiante. Este fenómeno potencia temporalmente el interés, la atención, la motivación y la probabilidad de recuerdo, entre otras cosas.

El efecto novedad se manifiesta en muchos campos de distinta forma. Por ejemplo, en marketing (lanzamiento de productos innovadores), medicina (interacción del efecto novedad y la hemiplejia), psicología (memoria y rendimiento) o juegos (una mezcla de todo lo anterior).

Parece un fenómeno versátil e influyente. ¿Se podrá aplicar de algún modo a nuestros juegos?

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Mundo implícito o explícito: rellenando los huecos

Hola, soy Imperator y en mi vida cotidiana tengo un trabajo que consiste en decirle a la gente lo que tiene que hacer. En serio. Es el mejor trabajo del mundo. Así que pensé, coño, podría decirle a la gente lo que tiene que hacer con los videojuegos, que es un tema que me gusta mucho. Lo de menos es si te escuchan. Así que encantado de poner mi granito de arena a este estupendo blog. Read More…

Las técnicas y herramientas son limitaciones

– ¡Te he dicho que no quiero ni oír hablar de ello!

– Escucha… allí no van a quitarte tu creatividad. Simplemente te van a enseñar herramientas y técnicas que te permitirán emplearla a fondo. Te van a enseñar los problemas con los que se han encontrado otros antes que tú – gente que además ha dedicado una vida entera únicamente a ese tema – y cómo solucionarlos, para que no tengas que partir de cero otra vez, sino subirte a la montaña de su experiencia y crear desde allí.

– ¡Que no y mil veces no! ¡La música sale del corazón y me niego a ponerle cadenas para decirle cómo tiene que ser!

(basado en una conversación real)

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¿Autoinmersión? Atacar desde dentro

Se dice mucho que los videojuegos son actualmente el medio con más potencial para transmitir y crear experiencias. Que la interacción permite tocar más de cerca los sentimientos y emociones del jugador, pero parece que está costando llegar a ese punto.

¿De qué modo podemos trabajar con aquello que más nos identifica como humanos?

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Una experiencia que merezca la pena

Creo que cualquier juego debería ofrecer una experiencia que merezca la pena.

¿No es eso otra forma de expresar el tantas veces repetido “los juegos tienen que ser divertidos”? Voy a cambiar mi afirmación inicial para intentar clarificarla.

Creo que cualquier obra de entretenimiento debería ofrecer una experiencia que merezca la pena. Posiblemente esta afirmación se podría extender mucho más allá del ámbito al cual la he acotado, incluso.

Una experiencia divertida puede merecer la pena, pero, lejos de ser la única opción, no es más que una de las posibles experiencias que pueden merecernos la pena.

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El Héroe de las Mil Pantallas

Veamos… Harry Potter vivía una vida ordinaria con los Dursley hasta que de repente se presentó Hagrid para cambiar su mundo.

Luke Skywalker trabajaba en la granja de su padre cuando el mensaje de Leia le cambió la vida.

Frodo era feliz en la Comarca con su tranquila existencia hasta que apareció Gandalf…

¡Qué coincidencia! ¿…O quizá no lo es?

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