Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 1-6
Published Online August 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Voiskounsky, A. and Wang, S.L. (2014) Flow Experience While Computer Gaming: Empirical Study.
Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 1-6.
Flow Experience While Computer Gaming:
Empirical Study
Alexander Voiskounsky1, Shilu Wang2*
1Psychology Dep art men t, Moscow Lomonosov State University, Moscow, Russia
2Guangdong University of Education, Guangzhou, China
Email: *great win
Received May 2014
Video/compu ter/ online gam in g a cquired gr eat popularity. A series of studies sh ow that g am in g is
accompanied by flo w experienc e (th e t erm c oined M. Csik szentmih alyi) , whi ch is as s oci ate d wi th
intrinsic m otiva tion, creativity and l ife h app iness. The study was held with Chinese ad olescen t and
adult gamers (N = 1574) . A 24-ite m quest ionnai re (availabl e in English , Russian and Frenc h) was
adapte d to be used with in a Chine se population. The resu lts show th at Chinese game rs experie nce
low level of Fl ow during gamepl ay sessio ns; male s experience flow mo re frequ ently comp a red to
females; adolesc ents exp erience flow more of ten th an adults. Chinese gam e rs seldom express f acts
of immersi on during play sessions. In sum, Chinese players seldom regard pla ying video/co mpu-
ter/online games a reas o n abl e way to at ta in intrinsi c motiv ati on and flow. Thi s result is discuss ed
and supposedly rooted in the social ideals of coll ectivis m in Ch inese culture, according to whic h
individualit y is n ot encou raged.
Positive Psych ology, Cybe rpsyc hology , Optimal Ex perience, Flow Exp erience, Int rinsic Motivation,
Video/Compute r/Online Game, Col lectiv ism, Indiv idu alism, Imme rsion, Culture
1. Introduction
Positive psychology is rapidly developing, parallel to humanistic and e xiste ntial psychology. Stepping aside
from human pathology, weaknesses or damages, positive psychology forwards towards he a lth and happiness [1].
Among major conceptions developed within the field of positive psychology, theor y of self-determination [2]
and theory of optimal experience, or flow [3] sho ul d be mentioned.
While both theories are bei ng fruit full y applied in such areas as human-computer interactio n and c yberpsy-
chology, the flo w (a lso named autotelic) experience has got more ap p licatio ns [4] [5]. Due to this reason the
curr ent paper is devoted to the ap plic atio ns of flow experience such as video, stand-alone computer related, and
online gaming.
To be shor t with the de scrip tio n of flow expe rience, we need to mention that M. Csikszentmihalyi and his
colleagues who observed a range of widespread activities in various kinds of c ul ture , social status, gende r, age,
Corresponding author.
A. Voiskounsky, S. L. Wang
etc., in which consciousness of individual s was controlle d to ensure optimum focus upon the defined goals. M.
Csikszentmi ha lyi calls t his state of experience “Flow”, because most people use this ter m when they feel them-
selves co ns t antly flowing from one scene to another, being fully integrated into the environment between stimuli
and r e sp onses, bet ween past , present and future [3].
2. Flow and Gamep la y Activit y on the Internet
Gameplay occupies a special place in human civilizatio n: almost every huma n activity can be interpreted as a
play (just enough to mention cultural, philosophical and psychological theories of J. Huizinga, L. Wittge nstein,
E. Berne or L. Vygotsky). Playing activity is a trad itio nal area of research in psychology and adj acent sciences.
Based on the theory of flo w, M. Csikszentmiha lyi also developed a t heory of playing act ivity: any play is a per-
fect example of human’s aspir atio n for flo w. Indeed, gaming motivation is not dependent on the r e sult to acquire,
but by the process of playing, i.e. meet the conditions for flow experience [3].
Video/co mputer/o nli ne games go t unprecedented popularity within several decades. Information and comput-
er technologi es, connections to the I nt ernet create a new and unique e nvironment to reach flow experience be ing
obse sse d with al most every kind of ac tivity, from o nline marketing to hacking, i ncluding of cour s e gameplay ac-
tivity [4] [5]. In fact, technological revolution provides a so r t of immersion experience into virt ual realit y of
gaming. Not surpri s ingl y, well-controlled video /computer/onli ne gami ng is a popular practice for s tudyi ng phe-
nomena of flow.
Thi s is t rue worldwide, especiall y for Mainland China. First, Chine s e networke rs prefer computer games to all
the other entertainments on the Internet. As long way back as 2009, 62.8% of Interne t users in Chi na rep orted
(see: CNNIC) pl aying computer games as one of the main purposes for the use of Internet. Second, the de vel-
opment of the Inte rnet a nd video/co mputer /onli ne games made a very deep impact on Chinese society and tra di-
tional lifestyles, resulting in a generation gap. There are ambivalent attitudes in China towards the Internet. On
the one hand, development of the Inter net is encouraged in Chi na for accessing to global economy. On the ot her
hand, co nservative people in China do not approve the I nt erne t, which is a promoter of individ ualit y characteris-
tic for the Western cul ture and possibly threa t ening traditio nal values of China which emp hasize an interdepen-
dent se l f rather than an independe nt se lf [6]. Therefore, the Inter net users in China, i ncluding gamers, are strictly
controlled by gover nmenta l or educational agenc i es. W hile flow experience is widely associated with gameplay
activity [4] [5], psychologists in China pa y rather little attentio n to this aspect of the I nternet-mediated activity.
The current study is a part of a cross-cultural study of flow experience in the c yberspace, na mely vid-
eo/computer/o nli ne gamin g: the p revio us work was carried o ut within Russ i an, American and Fr ench popula-
tions of online gamers [7]; Russian players [8] [9]. T he r ecent work was carried out using the same survey me-
thodologyas a part of the cross-cult ural research project, this time held within the population of Chine s e ga-
3. Research Hypot heses, Methodology and Participants
3.1. Research Hypotheses
The mai n hypotheses of the pr esent s t ud y are as foll ows:
1) C hi ne se p l a yers of video/co mputer /o nlin e games sho w low level of flow e xperience s.
2) In Chi na , compared to adults, adolescent gamers s ho w hi ghe r leve ls of flo w experience.
3) C hi ne se ma le gamers, co mpared to females, demonstrate higher level of flo w.
4) In Chi na , dur i n g gameplay report feel i n g p le a s ur e mor e o ft e n t ha n fe e lin g e nj o yme nt .
3.2. Methodology
A ques t i onnaire administering method was used, with a questionnair e consisting of two blocks. The first block
includes 4 questions about age, sex, gaming experience, and time give n to gaming per week. The second block
of the question naire i ncludes 24 questi ons measurin g flow experience dur ing gaming. The second block was
originally worked out in Russia, later been adapted to be used within populations of gamers speaking French and
Engl i sh. In the present st udy, the question nair e was re-adapted by back translation: fir st, it was translated from
Russia n to Chinese, the n two interpreters (a Russian, who knows Chinese, and a Chinese, who k nows Russian)
independ ently tra nslated the Chine s e versio n back into Russian. After this, the two translation s were compared
A. Voiskounsky, S. L. Wang
with the o rigi nal Russian vers i on of the questio n naire, and the Chinese version was revised again. After this,
another two Chinese who know Russian quite well were found to retranslate t he revised items into R ussian, and
the consis tenc y with the original Ru ssian ver s i on was checked again. Lastly, the fina l version of the Chi nese
questionnaire measuring flow experience while vid eo /co mpute r/o nline gaming was created .
3.3. Participants
Two methods have been used to distribute the questio nnair e in pr ima ry or middle scho o l s: first, online admi nis-
teri ng, and second, traditiona l—s heets of paper with print e d que st ions. Participa tion was vo l untary. T ota ll y,
1704 replies were received. Aft er filtratio n 1574 were le ft, a mong which 64.7% (1019) of the respondents were
males and 35.3% (555)females. Their age was mostly between 17 and 25 years old. About 60% respondents
reported they played v ide o/c omp uter/online games for mo re tha n 3 years. As many as 25.2% respondents re-
ported to play over 10 hours per week.
4. Data Analysis and Result s
Data pr o c e ssing was conducted with SPSS 18.0.
4.1. The Overall Flow Measure
Initially, α Cronbach of 24 items in the flow scale was less t han 0.8. After the r emoval of four minimally relia-
ble items it reached 0.836. Table 1 shows the me an scores of each of 20 items. Amon g these 20 items, there are
onl y 7 points with mean score s higher than the expected mean value 3.0. Average score of all 20 items is 2.90 ±
0.03—also below 3.0. Thus, we can say that the Chi nese gamers experience little flow. In addition, basing on
the semantic meaning of the it ems it can be stated that t he Chinese gamers are prone to experience stress in the
game, and t hey seld om openly express their intere st in gaming. Thus, t he firs t hypothesis is justified.
4.2. Measures of Flow by Different Age Groups of Gamers
The r esult of one-way ANOVA tells us that pl ayers younger 17 experience flow mo re strongl y tha n o t hers <
0.000, see Table 2).
Further two-way analysis of variance shows sig nificant effect of the interaction between age and game e xpe-
rience on the le vel of flow exp erience < 0.048). For the players who p layed longer than 1 year, the one s older
than 17 report the y exp e rience much less flow than the ones younge r than 17. But for the pl ayers who play less
than 1 year, such a difference between age gr oup s was no t f ound ( se e Table 3). Thus, the second hypothesis has
been justified.
4.3. Gender Differences of Gamers’ Flow Experience
The re sults of oneway ANOVA indicate that male players experience flow during the gamin g process stronger
than females < 0.000, see Table 4). But me n play much more than women : is it correct to state that the gend-
er polarity oc curs only because men p la y mo re than women? F urther comparison was done to find o ut whether
there is gender differe n ce in e xperi enci ng flow, taken that the gamers pla y equally long (or short) time. The re-
sults show that among ga mers who play less than 3 hours and mor e than 10 hours, men s till experience signifi-
cantly highe r level of flo w tha n women < 0.01, see Table 4). Therefore, when time sp ent gami ng is the sa me,
males experience flow stronger than females, and the third hypothe sis has been justified.
It wa s found that the re is significant differenc e between male and f emale gamer s who are younger than 16
(see Table 5, α < 0.000). Moreover, as it is sh own in the Table 5, according to the results of t woway analysi s
of variance of the impact of interaction between gender and age on the fl ow level, for female pla yers there are
no significant differe nces of Flow scores between different age groups.
4.4. The Structure of the Flow Experience among Chinese Players
Exploratory factor analysis has been used to explore the structure of flo w experience among Chinese player s.
Two factors have b een identified , each factor involve s 10 items (their distributio n is presented in Table 1). Ac-
cording to the semantics of the items, the first fac tor can be named “positive experience and achievements” in
A. Voiskounsky, S. L. Wang
Table 1. M ean scores of all items of the flow scale and the factor distribution.
Questions Mean score SD
Factor 1 (positive experience and achievement in game)
constant strict control over game situation
whether a gameplay character ever reached the highest level 2.75 1.172
players find interest while playing 2.85 1.226
feel pleasure while playing 3.48 1.06
orientation on results 3.13 1.157
preference of investigating the game areas which were unknown earlier 3.51 1.128
inspiration and enthusiasm toward the play itself 3 1.146
reflections about the situations within the game sessions after these sessions have already ended 2.81 1.209
orientation on success 2.9 1.235
the use of previously known ways and routes of playing 3.57 1.006
Factor 2 (immersion in game)
loss of sense of time 3.08 1.23
feeling of pressure and mobilization 2.61 1.119
experience negative emotions while playing 2.58 1.172
overuse of time allocated to the playing sessions 3.17 1.191
specific focusing of attention while gaming 2.74 1.161
replaying of the same episode with the same characters for pleasure 2.71 1.16
perception of full reality of the situations happening in the game 1.87 1.009
choice of familiar games in which one knows how to gain the success 2.96 1.214
replay of the same situation with the same character to gain the best result 2.76 1.165
indifference to all the out-of-play problems 2.59 1.213
Table 2. Comparison of flow levels of players belonging to different age groups.
Age (years) 16 17 - 20 21 - 25 26
Number of players 418 440 4 36 280
Table 3. Relation between flow, age and game experience.
Age (years)
17 - 20
21 - 25
Flow Game experience < 1 year 2.7 147 2.6869 2 .6439 2.7176
Game experience > 1 year 3.1430 2.8406 2.9370 2.9195
Table 4. Relationship between flow experience, gender and time given to gaming per a week.
time given to gaming per a week (hours)
3 - 10
Flow score M. 2.7985 3.0 429 3.0794
F. 2.6554 2.8 530 2.9642
the game, while the second factor can be called “preoccupation or immersion”. Table 6 shows that the ave rage
score of the first factor is 3.0971, it is signific antly higher th an the average score of the s e co nd factor < 0.000).
So we can draw a conclusio n t hat Chi nese playe rs treat co mputer ga mes as a way of entertainment rather than an
activity which they are engaged i n, and t he fourth hypothesis had been justified .
Further analysis (see Table 7) indicate s that the re are no significant differences in the gamers’ po siti ve expe-
rience and achievements b etween age group s older than 17, but among gamers yo unger t han 17 the level of pos-
itive experience and achie vements is highe r tha n a mong others a ges (all α < 0.000). T here is no si gnificant dif-
ference in immers io n while gaming between age gr oup s whi ch younger than 17 and older than 21, but the ga-
mers who are between 17 and 20 years old experience significantly lower level of immersion into gaming contest
A. Voiskounsky, S. L. Wang
Table 5. Relationship between flow, gender and age.
Age (years) 16 17 - 20 21 - 25 26
Flow score M. 3.2186 2.8336 2.9076 2.9579
F. 2.7624 2.7 236 2.8275 2.7 794
Table 6. Comparison of the levels of the two factors of flow exp erien ce.
Mean score
Positive experience and achievement in computer game 3.0971 0.65638
Immersion in computer game
Table 7. Comparison of the levels of the two flow factors within different age groups.
Age (years)
17 - 20
21 - 25
Positive experience and achievement in computer game 3.3 074 3.0030 3.0300 3.0357
Immersion in computer game 2.7696 2.5902 2.7337 2.7500
(all α < 0.01). Thus, the players who are younger 17 experience a higher level of both fac tor s 1 and 2 of Flow,
but in the 17 - 20 age group the level of both factors 1 and 2 of Flow has significantly dropped. After that t he
level of factor 1 of flow keeps on staying on a low level, but the l evel of factor 2 of flow return back to the l e vel
as high as that of the players who are younger than 17.
5. Discussion and Conclusion
The major hypothesis of the current study is that Chinese gamers experience low level of flow. Justification of
this hypothesis needs further comparative research to be done in various cultural backgrounds both inside and
outside China, since flow is a widespread experience mediated by the Internet. The results show that the mean
score of flow in Chinese gamers is below the mean value (3.0)it indicates that Chinese players hardly expe-
rience as much flow as gamers with background in many other cultures. Furthermore, there is strong coherence
between this conclusion and the traditional Chinese culture of collectivism that does not respect individuality,
while individuality is essential for flow experience.
Results show there are gender differences in the flow level; reasonable interpretation is that females in China
are more subservient than males, so girls are more expected to behave according to the imposed school or family
requirements. Males in China are often educated enough to be more independent than females and are more
likely to have autotelic experiences. Due to this reason, male players more often experience flow in video/
computer/online gaming compared to females.
It is a Csikszentmihalyi’s idea that flow experience cannot be understood independently of social environment.
Despite this idea, many current researchers pay attention to the universal aspects of flow experience. By contrast,
in our study an attempt was made to expose the specific culture influence on flow. We think this kind of culture
related investigation of flow is essential for both the development of optimal experience theory and understand-
ing particular cultures.
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