No one likes to lose: The effect of game difficulty on competency, flow, and enjoyment

Mike Schmierbach, Mun Young Chung, Mu Wu, Keunyeong Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Although scholars of video game enjoyment propose that games are meant to present a reasonable and appropriate challenge to players, not enough research has tested the effects of difficulty on enjoyment or the psychological mechanisms driving this relationship. In an experimental study involving college students (N = 121) playing a casual online tower defense game, we tested the relationship between difficulty and enjoyment and the possible mediating roles played by competency, as specified by self-determination theory, and challenge-skill balance, as specified by flow theory. Path analysis suggested that feelings of competency contribute to enjoyment by helping players obtain a balance between challenge and skill, and that competency is enhanced when players are assigned an easier game mode. This paper then addresses implications for theory, game design, and laboratory studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-110
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Media Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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