What features make a video game more engaging?

New research published in Computers in Human Behavior examines what specific characteristics make a video game engaging to players.

The study revealed that features related to punishment (losing a life, being forced to restart a level) and presentation (graphics, sounds) were most important for inducing a flow state, in which the player was so engrossed in the game that everything else became oblivious to them. Social features and reward features were also associated with flow to a lesser extent.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Derek Laffan of the DĂșn Laoghaire Institute of Art. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Laffan: I became interested in the topic for two reasons. I am myself a video gamer. I love playing role playing games such as the Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Final Fantasy and the Witcher. The gaming interest I think came from that. In terms of the direction I took with the study, I was always interested in how video games and their features were used to make people feel good and improve general wellbeing.

What should the average person take away from your study?

In my opinion, people who play video games in a leisurely capacity might be interested in the psychological effects that some game features have on them. For example, a prominent finding in the study was that individuals who play video games with punishment features (i.e a boss battle beating you, having to restart a level because you ran out of time, etc. ) may experience a heightened flow state. This may be because the punishment features are making the game harder, thereby making game more challenging.

Game developers or people involved in making games might take a more strategic perspective from the study. For example if deciding whether a game needs to be more immersive, a developer might need to input a spectacular graphic component or the sound features need to be very intricate.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

As the study is correlational the meaning of the findings are suggestive and interpretive. I also think that as we measured individual’s engagement of their video game experience while they were not playing in the moment, it may suggest that different research methods (like case studies or maybe longitudinal studies) would provide more insight into the full understanding for what we found.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would add that this research direction is very new and especially in the context of which we explored it. The structural video game characteristics have been mostly studied in a problematic gaming context. I would encourage researchers interested in this topic to also consider possible implications on positive outcomes should it be of interest.

The study, “The relationships between the structural video game characteristics, video game engagement and happiness among individuals who play video games“, was co-authored by John Greaney, Hannah Barton, and Linda K. Kaye.