Optimization of subjective playing experience is a crucial part of a game design process. The fun (rewarding, enjoyment) characteristics offered by a serious game is a key factor in determining whether a player will be engaged in a play-learn process and able to achieve the desired learning outcomes In GALA, we adopted flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; 1990) for measuring user experience (UX) and analyzing the quality of Serious Game designs. We selected flow as a backbone of our UX research because flow seems to have a positive influence on performance enhancement, learning and on engagement (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi, Abuhamdeh & Nakamura, 2005; Engeser & Rheinberg 2008).

Researchers have argued that the contribution of flow in understanding of human behaviour will grow in the future (Engeser, 2012). For its part, GALA has contributed to flow research in serious games field with several research activities, where we have carried out work, which results and outcomes are expected to impact the research in SG design analysis and assessment. First, Kiili, Lainema, De Freitas and Arnab (2014) proposed a Flow framework for analyzing the quality of educational games. This framework can be used to scrutinize game designs and reveal ways to optimize user experience and learning. The framework provides a structure to consider and study principles that facilitate flow in serious games targeted for learning, without providing details on how to implement flow in serious games. Second, several case studies have been conducted to study the elements of the framework and to evaluate the usefulness of flow as serious games quality measure (e.g. Kiili, et al., in press). Our results in these studies have shown that flow is an appropriate construct to assess the quality of subjective playing experience, but more research is needed to develop measures that can be validly used in different kinds of serious games and contexts, especially considering the expected link between flow and learning. Finally, GALA has conducted a systematic literature review about flow in serious games. The literature review revealed that there are mainly conceptual considerations about flow in serious games, but no robust empirical evidence about the meaning of flow in serious games (GALA D2.4 Report on “Flow for Serious Games”, Bellotti et al. 2013). This is a major gap that should be covered by upcoming research.

According to the literature review conducted in GALA, in particular, there seems to be high level of agreement on the constitutional components of flow that is mainly based on Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model. In fact, we found only small variations in the use of flow dimensions in serious games research. Thus, we argue that research on flow should focus on the specific aspects related to the very nature of serious games that combine enjoyment and learning. It became also evident that flow dimensions are experienced in different levels in different kinds of games and those different characteristics of a game affect which dimensions are present. Furthermore, not all flow dimensions are present during every flow experience, which makes it challenging to validly measure flow with Likert scale based questionnaires. Thus, new methods to measure flow and analyse the data needs to be developed and studied. In GALA we have started studying the usefulness of neurophysiological methods to assess flow in games (Berta et al., 2013), which led to defining a map of the neurophysiological activities in correspondence with different levels of a player’s flow in the game. We expect this to be a significant basis for serious game research, design and evaluation.

The more detailed outcomes of the literature review and case studies are described in the GALA D2.4 “Flow for Serious Games” Report and will be available after Sept 2014.


For the complete report or feedback, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”>s.arnab@coventry.ac.uk with:

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Bellotti, F., Kapralos, B., Lee, K., Moreno-Ger, P., Berta, R. (2013). Assessment in and of Serious Games: An Overview. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, 136864. doi:10.1155/2013/136864

Berta, R., Bellotti, F., De Gloria, A., Pranantha, D., Schatten, C. (2013). Electroencephalogram and Physiological Signal Analysis for Assessing Flow in Games, IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games, Vol. 5, No. 2, 567-578, 164-175, June 2013

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Abuhamdeh, S., & Nakamura, J. (2005). Flow. In A. J. Elliot & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 598–608). New York: Guilford.

Engeser, S. (2012). Advances in flow research. Springer.

Engeser, S., & Rheinberg, F. (2008). Flow, moderators of challenge-skill-balance and performance. Motivation and Emotion, 32, 158–172.

Kiili, K., Lainema, T., De Freitas, S., & Arnab, S. (2014). Flow Framework for Analyzing the Quality of Educational Games. Entertainment Computing.

Kiili, K. Perttula, A., Lindstedt, A., Arnab, S., & Suominen, M. (In Press). Flow Experience as a Quality Measure in Evaluating Physically Activating Collaborative Serious Games. To be published in International Journal of Serious Games.

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