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Essay- Can behaviourism invoke flow in a game of mimicry?

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Can behaviourism invoke flow in a game of mimicry?

In this essay I will discuss briefly what behaviourism, flow and mimicry is before making the connection of the 3 to form an analytical response in relation to the question.

Behaviourism is a way of observing how a person responds to something, it might be the environment around them or something that happens to them to form a reaction. An example of behaviourism is B.F. Skinner and his theory of Operant Conditioning, Skinners theory is that you are rewarded for what is perceived to be good and punished for what is seen as bad. This is all revolves around a moral ground as everyone has different views on what is deemed good and bad behaviour. For example, in the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” there is a scene where Sheldon uses operant conditioning to reinforce what he deems as good behaviour to Leonards girlfriend Penny, he does this be offering her a chocolate as a reward for good behaviour. When Leonard realises this he confronts Sheldon and proposes he stops this resulting in Sheldon spraying Leonard with water for punishment. Sheldon does this as an attempt of brainwashing, just as Watson and Rayner did with a baby and a rabbit a test called “little albert”, whenever the rabbit came near the rabbit he slammed a hammer on the table to make the baby jump and cry, he did this until the baby cried just at seeing the rabbit. It is effectively brainwashing the child to not like rabbits and perceive a rabbit as danger due to the punishment.

An example of this in a game would be that for killing a huge boss the correct way completing the quest you are rewarded with loot and new equipment for your character. Whereas if you don’t complete the quest you will die from the enemy possibly resulting in loosing equipment and experience points you have built up.

flowMoving onto Flow, The Theory of Flow was founded Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; the idea of flow was that flow is a state of ecstasy where you are in an intense state or alternative reality. The list for achieve a state of flow is: 1. completely involved in what you are doing, 2. have a sense of ecstasy, 3. Have a greater inner clarity, 4. It’s a doable activity for you it’s not too complex, 5. You have a sense of serenity, 6. Timelessness, 7. Intensive motivation no distractions. If you can apply the following to your daily life you will live life in a state of flow. To achieve this though you have to develop your skills say ion your daily job, to enter flow you must learn the ways and all the tools to focus on your work in the best mind-set “in the flow”. The diagram I have entered is the flow diagram, if you have a high skill level and the challenge level matches it you are in a state of flow. As you can see the diagram judges yourself dependent on task level and skillset so if you are new to a game and get thrown in with the prestige veterans you’re going to be anxious. An example of myself in flow would be when I’m playing FIFA it’s the final game of the season I need to beat 1st place to win the league, I am a high skilled player of FIFA but I set the opponent on the highest level to so therefore high challenge vs my high skill and I have to be in full undivided focus to win this game, I slip concentration at any point I may concede and lose that game causing a side effect of flow which is rage or aggression when you are so into the game and it all goes wrong you get frustrated. A case of flow in the news was a Chinese couple who played Farmville to an excess where they forgot to feed their baby child at home and it starved to death, or the woman who shook her baby to death as it was crying whilst she played Farmville and she couldn’t concentrate.

Mimicry is one of the four aspects of play devised by Roger Caillois in his book “Man Playing Games”; Caillois divided games into Agon, Alea, Illinx and Mimicry. Agon is a game with challenge, competition or battle.

An example of Agon would be any online multiplayer Player vs Player or AI so Call of Duty, FIFA or Halo. FIFA you can player with your friends, against your friends, without friends against the computer or just on your own practising your skills or managing your team.

Alea is Chance, aspect of luck, strategy which is frequent in card games such as Poker, poker relies on probability methodology you the player are working out the probability your hand is better than everyone else’s and place a bet in direct proportion to how good your hand is, but to be truly good at poker you need to use that to your advantage when you have a bad hand to try manipulate the other players into thinking you have a good hand.

Illinx is multiple things, disorientation, confusion, vertigo, dizziness, alteration of perspective. A better way of looking at it is a game that affects you as the player maybe physically or psychologically. Scary games are Illinx as they make you frightened and jump due to the position you are in as the character whether it be 1st or 3rd person is a different feeling but it still plays with your mind. Away from video games Illinx could be applied in children’s playground on the roundabout as it spins more and more you get dizzier or ring a ring a roses the same effect applies.

Mimicry is make believe, copying or anything with an avatar in it, fantasy. Mimicry will apply for the role that the player has in the game, so any Role playing game (RPG) classes as Mimicry, an example of this would be the Elder Scrolls series, GTA or a board game like Monopoly. In Skyrim (elder scrolls) you design your own character of a chosen race to take the path of the dragon born who will cleanse the land of alduin the world eater dragon. Monopoly you pick a piece to try and build your empire of property and income as a result of that.

These will usually have some form of crossover for example Elder Scrolls is Mimicry for its Role playing, Agon for its competition vs the AI enemies, Alea as it has a chance of having a good drop from an enemy’s death like a rare amulet, and Illinx when you are in a dark cave exploring unknown territory you don’t know what could jump out a massive vampire or just a harmless rat.

Another addition to this Caillois made was Ludus and Paidia, Ludus is a game with rules so the majority of games you play to will have some form of rule e.g. call of duty you have to shoot the enemy to kill them to earn points and more you kill the higher you are on the leader board.

Paidia is without rules, so a concert or kids saying I’m going to play in the garden they don’t know what they are going to do they just know they are going out to play. But Paidia can turn into Ludus quite easily example with the kids they run out into the garden then they decide to play parents and make up the rules of the game as they go along.

Something else worth noting would be the Ludic Loop where you as the player are in and out of control which causes addiction, example would be angry birds you aim and fire but as soon as you let the bird go it’s out of your control, same with flappy birds you tap it flaps but when you don’t tap it falls and the aspiration to get better at making that bird flap gets you addicted.

Now that I have covered the 3 aspects of the question I can now expand and answer the question based on the knowledge I have of the 3 separate aspects.

Yes behaviourism can invoke flow in a game of mimicry. This can be achieved quite easily in many different ways. To support my argument I will use a game I have recently been playing which falls under mimicry, that game is Destiny. Destiny is a MMO shooter which you can play in multiple ways (Bartle test killer, achiever, explorer, and socialiser) you travel across planets as a guardian to enforce the power and survival of the human race and protect the tower the last city on earth, you fight enemies such as the fallen, vex, hive and cabal as base units all of which have bosses leading them along the way varying in levels and difficulty. The use of positive and negative reinforcement or Operant conditioning can be seen in the way the game developers lean you towards going into a strike or taking on a mission, mission difficulty varies the harder the difficulty you set in relation to your level the higher the reward/ loot you gain from taking that challenge on. This idea of complete and slay the enemy on behalf of the speaker (the voice of the god they call the traveller) you will gain rewards and experience points to make yourself a better guardian. But if you don’t do tasks and just hang around in the tower socialising with friends dancing around you won’t level up and you won’t unlock the best gear the game has to offer. Negatives will also be death and by not completing set quest you gain nothing and your time has gone to waste. To achieve the highest challenge strike and gain say a legendary auto rifle alongside glimmer (money system) you and your fire team will have to take down a 30ft ogre that fires plasma out of his face but has a weak spot under his chin. If you enter a state of flow you will be fully focused on getting that loot that nobody has yet and levelling your character up, working as a group to fire orders over headset to flank him and distract whilst I revive my teammate. But you won’t be in flow all the time right when not in the tower? Wrong, the elements implemented that even exploring you can be in flow there are golden and normal chests containing loot in hidden and difficult places, also patrol missions which will up your experience and unlock higher gear, random appearing social events where mass multiplayer events drop you in with other gamers to take down or protect and gain gold silver or bronze ratings, bounties to be completed in forms of collections, kills, tasks etc. flow can be achieved with all this positive reinforcement. A prime example would be recent addition “Vault of glass” this required 6 people you know to be level 26 to take on ridiculously hard enemies that only a few people have completed. This is not only difficult in the game but it’s difficult getting to the level of entry, at level 20 you are capped and experience no longer levels you up, level up is achieved by light in your armor the more the light the higher the level you will be therefore you need to go find loot or encrypted engrams (random loot you take to the tower to be decrypted) to get to that level. And if you go in fail whilst in flow you will react and aspire to be a greater guardian to finally conquer that mission, this links to the “epic win” theory Jane McGonagall mentions in a CAT talk. To achieve that epic win you must have something that tests you to the limit and rewards you for that effort, and to get that you will have to go in full flow to focus and achieve your epic win the link quite well. Following the list of flow the 7 steps you can directly link them to a Mimicry Game in my case Destiny. 1. What to do, you can enter a level 28 strike as a level 26 to gain rare materials to upgrade your weapon power and hopefully find amazing loot and drops from enemies, 2. How to do it, slay everything in your path work as a team to take down a huge boss for maximum loot or go solo to have it all to yourself, 3. How well you are doing, analyse your situation can I really kill that wizard with a shield quick enough out of cover or should I try stunning it and running past. 4. Where to go, use the mini map to navigate to your goal or explore and maybe accidently find a cave of loot, 5. High perceived challenges, bounties, online multiplayer, strikes any form of combat you deem as challenging due to mass amount of enemy or enemy level, 6. High perceived skills, your guardian level is high enough to take on that huge hex god as long as you’re clever about it, 7. Free from distractions, you’re in a lobby of just your fire team all focused on the end goal achieving that epic win.

Putting it all together you achieve flow because you want that end goal of mass loot and to level up despite the difficulty of the task ahead. You have deemed yourself high enough level to go for the grand prize possibly doing bounties related to the mission at the same time for even more loot and you take and complete the strike.

This will obviously depend on the type of player you are in relation to the “Bartle Test” if you are a killer you will want to slay the biggest most difficult enemy and then go online to kill your friend’s player vs player killing successfully and efficiently will induce flow. An explorer may induce flow by climbing and battling through countless enemies to get to the black garden the heart of the darkness and see vast views of amazing visuals. An achiever will want to complete all the story mode all side missions all strikes as fast as possible in the most efficient way to gain loot level experience and even trophies e.g. on PlayStation an achievers ultimate goal is the platinum trophy as well as in game maximum level for bragging rights. A socialiser will achieve flow by working in teams to go out into the game, he will then share his knowledge with others like which is the best cave or upcoming areas for release, helping others achieve their goals will induce flow for them.

There on the other hand could not invoke flow in a game of mimicry, if you just cannot get the hang of the game you struggle with shooters you find certain enemies too difficult despite them being lower level than you, it will cause anxiety and frustration. I mean you feel you are trying your hardest but just can’t kill that boss to grab your experience and loot that will boost your character significantly. You will just not want to play it anymore; it will have too much negative reinforcement for you despite you knowing there is a whole world of positives. The hard graft of a less skilled player in maybe forcing them to purely explore and do low experience very low level enemy areas purely hoping on a chest find wont induce flow. People can easily get stuck on a game like destiny and that it may require you to get past that point to get further and if you can’t it will be seen as a negative.

In conclusion there is both sides to an argument in this case possibly leaning slightly towards the Yes than the No but some people will have their own views and stumbling blocks when coming to a game, people may not see the benefits of behaviourism in games and react badly to the negative reinforcement especially if punished for doing what is deemed wrong. This could be a block or ban for hacking or cheating in the game or when you die you lose items you have gathered or experience points.


Mail Online, (2010). Mother kills her infant son after his crying interrupted her while she was on Facebook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2014].

McLeod, S. (2014). Behaviorism | Simply Psychology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2014]., (2014). Paul Starkey | Category Archives: MA (Theory and Theorists). [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2014].

Tekinbaş, K. and Zimmerman, E. (2006). The game design reader. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wikipedia, (2014). Little Albert experiment. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2014].









Author: Jason Pook 3D

Current student at Hull School of Art and Design studying Games Design.

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