Fostering Flow and Behavior with Design

In my short time as a game design intern here at Tiltfactor, I’ve found the real difficulty rests in the balance between challenge and simplicity (as it often does with the rest of life). How do you foster arenas for motivation, learning, and fun without tilting too far into states of boredom or anxiety (as described in the Three Channel Model of flow)?

Kiili’s (2009) Extended three-channel model of flow (modified from Csikszentmihalyi, 1991).

In his paper “Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model” Kristian Kiili (2005) argues for an educational game model, integrating educational theories and game design, that facilitates “flow” of flow theory in order to design meaningful and engaging educational games.

Kiili defines flow as a “state of complete absorption or engagement in an activity and refers to the optimal experience…[in which] a person is in a psychological state where he or she is so involved with the goal driven activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Kiili 2005, 14).

How can we channel flow in game design and could this be an important model to expand into other areas of life? Kiili’s game design discussion shares several elements within the Goal-Setting theory in the field of Organizational Behavior.

According to Jason Colquitt, Jeffery LePine, and Michael Wesson in Organizational Behavior: Essentials for Improving Performance and Commitment, the field of organizational behavior studies attitudes and behaviors of individuals and groups in organizations. The application of knowledge about these attitudes and behaviors can then improve performance and commitment in the workplace, which contributes to organizational performance.

• Job performance: the value of the set of employee behaviors that contribute, either positively or negatively, to organizational goal accomplishment (Colquitt, LePine, Wesson 2010, 25).
o Performance = ability x motivation

• Organizational Commitment: the desire on the part of the employee to remain a member of the organization (Colquitt, LePine, Wesson 2010, 25).

So where does flow and organizational behavior come together? The two entities each have a desired positive behavior and psychological outcome – experiences of flow and high organizational commitment and job performance respectively – and look to foster environments for the desired outcome. It comes down to craft. How can you craft an environment or situation that is likely to produce a desired outcome?

Motivation, an element Kiili hopes to foster in educational games, acts as a key element within the organizational behavior framework that precedes the end states of the model – Job Performance and Organizational Commitment.

Looking at the Goal-Setting Theory within organizational behavior, creating a successful game does not stray far from creating a successful organization. Players and workers need environments that foster motivation that is “internally consistent and fair” (Kiili 2005, 20) – that provide specific and difficult goals, address skill levels appropriately, and supply useful feedback (Colquitt, LePine, Wesson 2010, 102).

In game design, organizational behavior could correspond to the attitudes and behaviors of players prompted by the game experience; job performance to game play success or failure – do players engage in game play? And organizational commitment to players’ commitment in continuing game play.

In fostering motivation designers can lead to a greater likelihood of experiences of flow and positive organizational behavior. While not adequate in itself as an approach to game or organization design, facilitating experiences holds substantial power in making positive (or negative) changes in user, player, or employee experiences. Games in a large way mimic the greater experiences in life and their design theories and craft can and should be taken into consideration for larger structure and organization design.


Colquitt, Jason, Jeffery A. LePine, and Michael J. Wesson. 2010. Organizational behavior: essentials for improving performance and commitment. Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Kiili, Kristian. 2009. “The recipe for flow experience.” Game Based Learning. Accessed online at

Kiili, Kristian. 2005. “Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model.” The Internet and Higher Education. 8 (1): 13 – 24.