Frans Mäyrä’s Contextual Game Experience Model

How is our experience of a game constructed? What causes us to like certain games? I have been reading a couple of articles by Frans Mäyrä from the University of Tampere, where he has come up with a “Contextual Game Experience Model” that aims to be a theoretical framework for trying to understand this.

The model is based on Mäyräs earlier work, “The SCI model of gameplay experience” (presented in an article by Ermi and Mäyrä, 2005) that has another layer added, based on the work by Richard Johnson in his article “What Is Cultural Studies Anyway” (1986).

The SCI-model perceives the gameplay experience as “interaction between a particular kind of a game and a particular kind of game player.” During the gameplay, the player can get immersed in the game through three modes: 1) The sensory immersion, meaning how fantastic the sounds and visuals, among other possible sensory experience are. If the game is pleasing to see and hear, the player is more likely to engulf into sensory immersion. If the player doesen’t like the visual style, or finds the sounds or soundtrack irritating, they are likely to find themselves rather doing something else than playing the game. 2) The challenge-based immersion, meaning how much the game demands from you. If the game is too easy, it appears boring. If the game is too difficult, it is frustrating. It is important for the challenge level to be as close as possible to the optimal for the player. In many digital games this is solved by having an increasing difficulty level, so that the players ends up spending most of their time with a well suited challenge level. 3) The imaginative immersion, meaning the story of the game. Games create worlds in players’ minds. The better the story, the better the game. Of course, different players like different kinds of stories with different levels of complexity. Also some people are prefer to draw complex stories from the scarcest of suggestions, where for example a game of monopoly can be an epic drama. Other people, again, want the story given straight and square and don’t want to speculate and ponder it’s depths.

These immersion connect the player to the game, but are affected by the player’s motivations, emotions and other qualities, through all which the gameplay has a meaning to the player. The game provides these immersion through it’s rules, story, space and interface. The player doesn’t see the game as such, but only the surface of the game.

Later on, Mäyrä has probably not been completely satisfied with this model, as it doesn’t really explain, why certain games at certain times, when at other times some games just don’t catch air beneath their wings, regardless of how good they are, considering the concepts above, and how well marketed.

Mäyrä draws in 2007 from Richard Johnson’s Circuits of Culture (1986). Johnson presents a cycle, where an author’s creation process is forgotten in the shadows of the end result. In this case, the published game. The game the provides for individual use experiences – each player experiences the game in their own contexts (where they live, who they play with, what they do for living…), which is based on their culture. The game play provides to their culture, and finally the game creators are affected by, or live in the same culture and draw from there for their new creations.

Mäyräs Contextual Game Experience Model embeds the SCI-model into a set of contexts, assumably inspired by the Circuits of Culture. The CGE-model states that the SCI-model needs to be considered within the aspects of “immediate personal contexts” of the player – how and why the game is being played. This partially overlaps the “immediate social contexts” – how the playing of the game is accepted by the people closest to the player. Third, overlapping aspect is the “contexts provided by the earlier forms for game and play” – what kind of games the player is used to. Fourth aspect, still overlapping partially the previous three, is the “contexts for digital games’ production”. These are all contained within “the wider contexts of social norms and values”.

What affects the likeability of a soundtrack, is for example the contemporary music. If your favorite band is done justice in the game, you may easily find yourself attracted to the game. What affects the likeability of a motoric challenge, is how familiar one is to such activity. A person, whose culture mostly contains football, is likely to enjoy games where one can kick a ball using their whole body (Microsoft Kinect, for example) while the game plays “good” music familiar from watching the football world championship matches on the television and presents the player as a protagonist in an adventure with their favorite football heroes.

To make a hit game, it would appear that one has to consider what is (coming) popular among the target group of the game. The novelty value of the game must be in relation to those players’ current contexts.

I hope this blog entry has given you some value through my understanding and explanation of Mäyrä’s model. If so, you should read the original articles, and get a more direct contact to the original ideas and concepts. Mostly, I’ve written this just to gather my thoughts from the three articles listed below.


Ermi, Laura and Mäyrä, Frans. “Fundamental components of the gameplay experience: Analysing immersion.” In Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views–Worlds in Play. 2005.

Johnson, Richard. “What is cultural studies anyway?.” Social text 16 (1986): 38-80.

Mäyrä, Frans. “The contextual game experience: On the socio-cultural contexts for meaning in digital play.” In Proceedings of DiGRA. 2007.

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