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Can our understanding of Frustration be informed by the system of Experience?

Glenn Storm, Blogger

January 11, 2010

26 Min Read

Previous Post: Anxiety, Boredom and Flow

In the previous post, Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow was described as consistent with the dynamics asserted of the system of Experience. In this post, the Lens of the System of Experience is pointed squarely at arguably the most damaging results of unsuccessful Game Design: Frustration. Everyone should feel encouraged to join the discussion and comment on or debate the assertions presented. All relevant comments are welcome and appreciated.


When a Prediction is made about an Efficiency tradeoff, any discrepancies between the predicted outcome and the perceived results of that tradeoff weigh heavily on Motivation. As mentioned previously, if the predicted Efficiency gain is high, the priority of the task weighs on Motivation to complete the task; which in the face of severe difficulty, leads to anxiety. When predictions are instead made about the Attention cost, any discrepancies with the perceived resulting cost to that Prediction also weigh heavily. In a situation where a predicted Efficiency gain is high but the predicted Attention cost is relatively low, Motivation will likely lead one to engage in the task to pursue the goal of Understanding. If then the Attention does not yield that result, and a reevaluated Prediction of the total Attention cost rises, Motivation is likewise reevaluated to determine whether the ultimate Efficiency tradeoff for this task is still valuable. In the extreme case, when a predicted total Attention cost rises from a relatively low level to beyond the level of the predicted Efficiency gain, the tradeoff will no longer been seen as valuable and Motivation will likely direct the system of Experience to abandon the effort, despite the fact that a significant Attention cost has already been paid with no discernable Efficiency gain.1 Upon reflection, this condition will be described as Frustration; when a payment of significant Attention effort has yeilded no significant gain in Efficiency, no significant progress toward Understanding.


1 There are actually two kinds of revaluation that Motivation engages in at that point; to determine how the total Attention cost compares to the predicted Efficiency gain, and to determine the extra Attention cost from this point in time as compared to the predicted Efficiency gain. Frustration poses acute Stress.

Next Post: Variation, Chance and Randomness


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