A Review of Theories of Player Enjoyment in Playing Computer Games

Elizabeth Boyle, Thomas Connolly

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper provides an overview of theories which have been proposed to explain the enjoyment felt by player, in playing computer games. It has been argued that, while players clearly enjoy playing games, our understanding of player enjoyment is under-explored. A number of theoretical perspectives are discussed which may be relevant, including Deci and Ryan's self-determination theory, Malone and Lepper's account of components of intrinsic motivation, uses and gratifications theory, arousal theory, Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory and Apter's reversal theory.

The former theories help us to understand player enjoyment in terms of the satisfaction of needs. For Deci and Ryan enjoyment arises in satisfying very general intrinsic needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness, while USES and gratifications theory examines how computer games satisfy more specific needs for entertainment.

Arousal theory, Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory and Apter's reversal theory provide explanations of the immediate subjective experience of enjoyment felt in playing games. The traditional notion of arousal is a key construct in this respect, but recently concerns have been expressed that arousal is more complex than previously thought and we need to clarify our understanding of different kinds of arousal felt in playing computer games. Flow theory introduces the notion of skills, emphasising the delicate balance between the skills of the player and the demands of a task which lead to the extreme enjoyment experienced in conditions of flow. Apter's theory provides a compelling explanation of the sudden emotional flips which occur while carrying out an activity, from extreme anxiety at one moment to extreme joy as we manage to achieve a goal.

To conclude, these theories all contribute to our understanding of enjoyment but there is still some way to go in developing a fuller and more integrated model of enjoyment in computer games. Future research should work towards this aim and should also examine the compatibility of enjoyment with learning.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing Limited (ACPIL)
ISBN (Print)978-1-906638-18-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Enjoyment
  • motivation
  • self-determination theory
  • arousal
  • flow theory
  • reversal theory


Dive into the research topics of 'A Review of Theories of Player Enjoyment in Playing Computer Games'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this