Psychology students research players’ flow during video gaming

Christian Corah, Isaac Serrano and Terrell Russell

Entering the flow state while video gaming depends on characteristics of the game and the player. Identifying these characteristics was the subject of research by three Adams State University psychology students who wanted to better understand the “flow state” of video gamers. Their study has implications for both video game players and video game designers.

Video games, from Pong to Fortnite, are becoming more sophisticated and complex as they capture the attention of generations of players. That is why psychology students Christian Corah, Terrell Russell and Isaac Serrano investigated the “flow state” among video gamers. The flow state is described as the “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment of the process of the activity.”

The purpose of the Adams State study was to determine which components contribute as the biggest predictors of achieving flow, gratification, and enjoyment while playing video games. The students tested several hypotheses regarding how players’ personalities, experience level, and characteristics of their preferred game relate to them being “in the zone.”

Adams State’s research could help designers develop games that emphasize characteristics that should result in flow, gratification, and enjoyment. Corah said one of the more interesting findings was that nostalgia was positively correlated with only enjoyment. “We expected it to predict both gratification and flow as well.” This means that developers making games centered on nostalgia (Star Wars, Pokemon, Super Mario) need more than just the nostalgia to make a good game.

Implications for players include becoming more aware of video game characteristics that are most likely to result in flow, gratification, and enjoyment. This heightened level of awareness should allow players to pick games that result in a better gaming experience.

The Adams State undergraduate researchers administered the flow assessment to 115 students during the 2019 academic year. Of those students, 98 completed the assessment. The results showed significant correlations between numerous video-game characteristics of an individual’s favorite game and flow, gratification, and enjoyment.

Specifically, they found video games that reward players, have audio and character identification are the best predictors of flow. Similarly, reward features, visuals, and character identification are the best predictors of enjoyment and gratification.

The research also showed there were significant correlations between specific personality traits and flow, gratification, and enjoyment; extraversion, agreeableness, and fantasy (the tendency to relate to fictional characters) predicted flow. Only fantasy predicted enjoyment and gratification. Flow was positively predicted by both gratification and enjoyment. Gratification and enjoyment tended to occur together.

Based on the research, the students expect games that have these specific traits should result in more play time and in-game purchases. However, there should be additional research to determine if flow, gratification, and enjoyment experiences are positively correlated with play time and video game purchases.

Psychology professor Jeff Elison, Ph.D., was the faculty advisor on the project. His research on flow while rock climbing served as an inspiration for Corah, Russell, and Serrano.

Corah will graduate with highest honors in the 2019 Spring Commencement and will continue at Adams State, working toward a master’s degree in applied sport psychology. “When conducting research, I can be creative with my thoughts, ask my own questions, and find my own answers.”

Russell and Serrano plan on continuing the research with Corah. Adams State will launch an e-sports club in the fall semester, giving the researchers more subjects to potentially study and incorporate into their work.