Contextualizing flow in games


Salisbury, J. and Tomlinson, P. 2014. Contextualizing flow in games. Proceedings of the 2014 DiGRA International Conference. 8.
TitleContextualizing flow in games
AuthorsSalisbury, J. and Tomlinson, P.

Flow, the concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi over the last forty years or so (see Csikszentmihalyi 1975) has been invoked quite often with respect to the way players engage with digital games (e.g. Baron 2012; Cowley et al. 2008; Sweetser and Wyeth 2005; Brathwaite & Schreiber, 2009; Fullerton, Swain, & Hoffman, 2008; Schell, 2008). However Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi (2002) argue that ‘video games’ are in fact likely to promote undesirable experiences of a kind Csikszentmihalyi refers to as ‘entropy’ or unstructured and unsatisfying life experiences. This presentation explores Csikszentmihalyi’s greater thesis and examines how a broader reading of Flow theory can potentially help us understand Flow like engagements beyond the simple mechanistic view of challenge and reward sometimes encountered in the literature. The main thrust of the argument made here is to explicitly introduce personally expressed cultural values into the conditions of Flow. By doing so we can then provide a value centric analysis and design approach, similar to that of Cockton’s (2004; 2012) proposal to include values into general software design. That is the very nature of challenges and rewards needs to be considered in order to investigate how overcoming or receiving such would be positively or negatively perceived by individuals from particular cultures holding particular values. Thus we hope that we have dealt with the apparent contradiction in using Csikszentmihalyi’s concept in the study of games despite his criticism of such, and have provided some indication of how we can deal with unspecified rewards and the differential perception and engagement with potentially equivalent challenges while still supporting the accepted thesis of Flow.

JournalProceedings of the 2014 DiGRA International Conference
Publication dates
Print01 Aug 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited13 Sep 2018
Accepted01 Apr 2014
Output statusPublished
Publisher's version
Copyright Statement

© 2014 Authors & Digital Games Research Association DiGRA. Personal and educational classroom use of this paper is allowed, commercial use requires specific permission from the author.

Additional information

DiGRA International Conference: <Active Noun> the <Verb> of game <Plural Noun>, DiGRA 2014, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, August 3-6, 2014

Web address (URL)
Permalink -

Download files

Publisher's version
  • 19
    total views
  • 2
    total downloads
  • 0
    views this month
  • 0
    downloads this month

Export as

Related outputs

Reconciling Csikszentmihalyi’s broader flow theory: with meaning and value in digital games
Salisbury, J. and Tomlinson, P. 2016. Reconciling Csikszentmihalyi’s broader flow theory: with meaning and value in digital games. Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association (ToDIGRA). 2 (2), pp. 55-77.