Neural contributions to flow experience during video game playing.
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2012 Apr;7(4):485-95.
Klasen M, Weber R, Kircher TT, Mathiak KA, Mathiak K.
Department for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Germany.
Although game play has been intensively studied, the underlying neurobiology is still poorly understood. Flow theory is a well-established model developed to describe subjective game experience. In 13 healthy male subjects, we acquired fMRI data during free play of a video game and analyzed brain activity based on the game content. In accordance with flow theory, we extracted the following factors from the game content: (i) balance between ability and challenge; (ii) concentration and focus; (iii) direct feedback of action results; (iv) clear goals; and (v) control over the situation/activity.
Each of the content factors was characterized by specific and distinguishable brain activation patterns, encompassing reward-related midbrain structures, as well as cognitive and sensorimotor networks. The activation of sensory and motor networks in the conjunction analyses underpinned the central role of simulation for flow experience. Flow factors can be validated with functional brain imaging which can improve the understanding of human emotions and motivational processes during media entertainment.
Csíkszentmihályi’s (2000) concept of flow is one of the most prominent theories describing subjective game experience (e.g. Holt and Mitterer, 2000; Johnson and Wiles, 2003; Sherry, 2004; Sweetser and Wyeth, 2005; Keller and Bless, 2008; Weber et al., 2009b). Flow is considered a mental state of being completely absorbed by an activity, accompanied by positive feelings. Csíkszentmihályi (1988, 1990, 2000) described the flow as being associated with a number of factors, which can be itemized as follows:
- balance between the ability of the person and the challenges of the task;
- concentrating and focusing on the activity;
- direct and unambiguous feedback of action results;
- clear goals of the activity;
- control over the activity;
- the activity is autotelic (intrinsically rewarding);
- loss of self-consciousness (loss of awareness of oneself as a social actor);
- distorted sense of time;
- merging of action and awareness (the awareness is only focused on the activity).
Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. Experiencing Flow in Work and Play.
25th Anniversary Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2000.