Annotated entry – Lemay’s Pattern Language

“Developing a Pattern Language for Flow Experiences in Video Games” (2007) – Philippe Lemay, University of Montreal

Lemay, P. (2007). Developing a pattern language for flow experiences in video games. In Situated Play, Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference (pp. 449-455). University of Tokyo, Tokyo.

Lemay’s “Developing a Pattern Language for Flow Experiences in Video Games” (2007) explores the structure of play experience surrounding designed pattern languages in order to create a tool for gamespace designers to create efficiently structured and paced play experiences which encourage and maintain flow.  From this, Lemay attempts to create a dimensional model of play experience.

In order to accomplish this model, the author performs a metacritical survey of existing pattern languages in the understanding of play, and attempts to create a supplement or synthesis for these approaches which might offer an “extended corpus” which includes “all facets and dimension of the flow model” for play (454).

Bjork and Holopainen’s component pattern language.

Examining Bjork and Holopainen’s (2005) component framework (Figure 1), Lemay considers the categories of play and game systems (Boundary, Holistic, Structural, and Temporal) and finds a lack in the experiential elements of play and interaction–and argues that while the pattern “encompasses the wide variety of games found today,” it requires a “complementary language” in order to create a more coherent structure(449-50).

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model

From this, the author moves on to Csikszentmihalyi’s model of “flow” and optimal experience (1988), which Lemay argues offers sensory and cognitive structures for understanding how individuals interact with spaces and media through a locus of experienced challenge and expressed competence (Figure 2).  Extending this argument into interactive spaces, Csikszentmihalyi’s conditions for flow demand expressed or clearly-presented goals, instant or immediate feedback, and an elevated degree of challenge matched to a specific degree of expressed competency (451).

fig_3From these two frames of  understanding game mechanic experiences, Lemay then attempts to structure a pattern language of experiential flow (Figure 3 and the experiential/design relationship (Figure 4 in concordance with previous scholars who applied flow experience to game spaces. In doing so, Lemay is able to further articulate the research questions at the core of the investigation, including:


  • What elements may help generate or maintain flow experiences? 
  • What elements would hinder the emergence of flow experiences?

In so doing, Lemay also establishes the notion of an “anti-pattern” language, one which functions against or subverts flow experiences. (452)  At this point, the author creates a multifaceted structural metric for coding play experience according to five core categories (sensation, emotion, cognition, behavior, and social) and offers three different pattern examples which might fit various flow experiences and medium types (453-54).

In his conclusion, Lemay argues that these comprehensive flow patterns might be viewed as a guiding set of consequences of design for games which function effectively and communicate flow-capable mechanics.

However, I want to push back, briefly, and argue that I don’t think these metrics will inherently create flow experiences or encourage the maintenance of preexisting flow behaviors. This is to say that the design process is inherently too individualized and specific to theme or project purposes to allow for a heuristic understanding of flow within design procedures.  However, this pattern language may allow for studying flow experiences under coding protocols which attempt to locate flow by examining the emotional and performative dimensions examined here.

I’ll return to this more with the methodology and coding sections of my current study at a later point in the semester.  However, for now I will note that–while Lemay may not be generally useful for the study of visual rhetoric–this work offers very viable tools for exploring the experiential nature of visuality in interactive spaces.


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