In their study, Lazaros Michailidis, Emili Balaguer-Ballester and Xun He challenge the usage of the terms ‘flow’ and ‘immersion.’ In game studies, the terms are often used separately, hinting that they do not refer to the same thing (Author’s note: According to the Oxford dictionary of English, immersion means “deep mental involvement”).
Flow theory has nine different proposed dimensions:
– Balance between players’ skill and the game’s challenge.
– Action and awareness are both present.
– Clear goals for the player.
– Instant feedback for the player.
– The player is concentrated.
– The player has perceived control over the activity.
– Loss of self-reflection.
– Loss of sense of time.
Some researchers have argued that all nine dimensions are not needed for flow to kick in, while others argue that all are needed for a player to experience flow state. Michailidis et al. argue that “flow’s dimensions are more descriptive in nature rather than definitive,” and that immersion also follows the same kind of stages that flow does.
Immersion theory by Brown and Cairns (2004) argue that immersion has three stages:
– Total immersion.
Michailidis et al. also point out a third term: presence (spatial presence). They refer to Brown and Cairns’ study that total immersion equals presence. However, the authors conclude that presence appears to be different from flow and immersion, and that it might be the sensation felt before flow and immersion. In other words, presence is an “early stage of video game engagement.”
The authors reference many related neuroscience studies to try and differentiate flow and immersion, but they ultimately found that it is not a safe assumption to differentiate between both with the current evidence, while presence is different from them. They also point out that many of the researchers use different games and varying amount of playing time in their studies, so it complicates the identification of what might be flow and what might be immersion if they indeed are separate things.
In conclusion, Michailidis et al. consider that flow and immersion have the same meaning and continuing using the terms separately is not justified without further evidence. Their suggestion is that the terms should be used interchangeably, until and unless evidence is presented to differentiate the two from each other.
Picture: John_Ioannidis https://pixabay.com/photos/waterfall-river-bridge-water-4105669/
Reference: Michailidis, L., Balaguer-Ballester, E., and He, X. (2018). Flow and Immersion in Video Games: The Aftermath of a Conceptual Challenge. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01682
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