Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Lens of Optimum Arousal Intensity

Media can promote arousal states along a spectrum from low, boredom and relaxedness, to high, anxiety and excitement. In Mood Management Theory this is referred to as the excitatory potential. Designing for an optimum arousal intensity can make a piece of media helpful in repairing a consumer's mood, but pushing too far in either direction can unintentionally promote moods that consumers would like to avoid.

A player who is in a state of low arousal may choose to play a game to achieve higher arousal and player who is in a state of high arousal may choose to pick up a game to achieve lower arousal. It is a good idea for game designers to keep this fact in mind as they create their game.

Focusing Questions

  • Does your game tend to promote excitement or calmness in the player?
  • What range of arousal intensities does your game offer?
  • What points of your game should have the highest/lowest arousal intensity?
  • How easily can a player modulate your game's current arousal intensity?
  • Does your game give player mostly positive or negative feedback?
  • Does the player to get into flow, or must they continually react to new challenges?
  • Does the player feel their actions may result in important consequences?
  • How does the aesthetic of your game effect the player's mood?

Can be instantiated by




World of Warcraft


World of Warcraft offers a range of arousal levels that is wider than most games. The core loop of combat usually provides a relatively high level of arousal that is positively charged. Exploration of the world supports this excitement and inspires Curiosity. This combat can also bore the player, when battles are fought to grind for experience or loot, or stress the player, when battles are fought within a raid and failure means the loss of hours of work. Even players looking for a positive, low arousal experience can find it while developing crafting skills.

Super Smash Bros. Melee


Super Smash Bros. Melee is a party-fighting game that uses quick action, weighty animations, and support for multiple players to project a high excitatory potential. At almost all levels of play, this game supports a high arousal level.





This is an industry standard and is empirically validated


Motivations: Arousal, Mood Management


Bowman ND and Tamborini R (2012) Task demand and mood repair: the intervention potential of computer games. New Media & Society 14(8): 1339–1357.

Zillmann, D. (1988a). Mood management through communication choices. Am. Behav. Sci. 31, 327–341.


lenses/lens_of_optimum_arousal.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/19 12:24 by strapp