Last month, I posted on the origins of Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow, but the diagram I focused on there (and that tends to pervade discussion of flow among game designers) is actually a bit dated.
Preparing for a reading group on engagement here at IU, I came across this very readable chapter from the Handbook of Positive Psychology, in it was introduced to a much more nuanced version of the Flow Diagram. If you're familiar with the classic flow diagram, you might notice it has some deficiencies. Most notably, the experience of being in a high-skill, high-challenge state is markedly different that a low-skill, low-challenge state, even though both fall within the so-called "flow channel".
As research on flow has progressed, it has become clear that the traditional model needs expansions, and the result is the diagram you see above. At first glance it may seem radically different, but in fact it is mapping the same challenge/skill space as the original, only now there is more intricacy to how the different regions of that space are defined. Recall that the standard model has three regions: the flow channel in the middle, the anxiety region (where challenge exceeds skill), and the boredom region (where skill exceeds challenged). The new diagram refines this picture by splitting the space into eight unique psychological states, all emanating concentrically from the center, where both challenge and skill fall in the middle of their respective ranges of possibility. Organized in this way, we are left with concentric circles that indicate the intensity of experience within each "slice". So, in the upper right, we have our familiar flow state, increasing in intensity as both challenge and skill increase. But if one increases more than other, we can either be pushed into arousal (high challenge with not quite enough skill to experience flow) or control (enough skill, but not enough challenge, to experience flow). Moving in the opposite direction from flow, simultaneous decreases in skill and challenge define apathy.
I won't go through all the regions in detail here, as the diagram should be clear to interpret by now. I will close, however, by asking you to reflect on how this new conception enhances the explanatory power of the flow framework. To start, note how it illustrates that there are actually two states associated with matched skills and challenges - apathy and flow - that would all have fallen into the flow channel of the original diagram. Further, it gives a much more nuanced picture of what happens outside of the flow channel. There's a lot of wiggle room between true flow and boredom or anxiety, and this new diagram gives us a more complete framework to think about these states.
The Refining the flow diagram by Jared Lorince, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.