Two Contextual Experience Models

Thinking zombieOver a year ago I posted about Frans Mäyrä’s Contextual Game Experience Model, which is aimed to analyse and understand a player’s game experience.[1] Recently I have come across another contextual model for analysing and understanding a person’s experience. John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking use their Contextual Model of Learning in their book Museum Experience Revisited to “explain and comprehend the museum experience”.[2] I understand that the model has been introduced earlier in 1992 in the earlier edition of the book “The Museum Experience”.

In a pending chapter to be published in a book[3], I discuss with Ilmari Lahti and Jouni Smed about how valid it is for all the current game instruments to be considered specifically game instruments. We included Frans Mäyrä’s Contextual Game Experience Model in the article and found the model generally applicable to a wider purpose than just games, excepting the challenge based immersion inside the core of the model. One motivation here is that we have frameworks, models and other tools appearing here and there, with the field of games and general entertainment being so widely unexplored yet. Many of these tools are bound to be overlapping, and now I’m posing the question of, to what degree are the Contextual Game Experience Model and the Contextual Model of Learning the same model.

The two models

The Contextual Model of Learning consists of three contexts: 1) the Personal Context, 2) the Sociocultural Context, and 3) the Physical Context. This is two less than in the Contextual Game Experience Model: i) the Immediate Personal Context (of digital play), ii) the Immediate Social Context (of play), iii) the Contexts Provided by the Earlier Forms (for Game and Play), iv) the Contexts for (Digital Game) Production, and v) The Wider Context of Social Norms and Values. It is also important not to forget the SCI-model (of gameplay experience) that is some kind of core of the experience, which is located inside the five contexts. It includes Sensory Immersion, Action (or Challenge) Based Immersion and Mental (or Imaginative) Immersion.

The Personal Context

In the Contextual Model of Learning context (1) the Personal Context is included a person’s “experience with the institution of museum generally, as well as experience with, and knowledge of, the content and design of the specific museum being visited.” It “also includes the visitor’s developmental level and preferred modes of learning” as well as “differences in individual interests, attitudes, and motivations for visiting.” This would seem to be split in two in Mäyrä’s model:

Experience with the institution of museum generally, the experience with and knowledge of the content and design of the specific museum being visited, for me would appear to fit well inside the (iii) Contexts Provided by the Earlier Forms of X, in the Contextual Game Experience Model, although Mäyrä’s article doesn’t describe more clearly this context than with naming it and mentioning it being a person’s “games literacy” – why not “museum literacy”, or “experience literacy”.

The visitor’s developmental level and preferred modes of learning and individual interests and attitudes and motivations for visiting (or playing or experiencing) could be sought for in the (i) Immediate Personal Contexts, which Mäyrä describes to consist of “how they play, what motivates their play – or aversion towards certain game forms.”

The Sociocultural Context

The (2) Sociocultural Context is something what a person carries into the experience as a baggage from their own society and what is embodied within the (museum/experience/game) institution itself. “In the first case, all people are born into, and develop within, a cultural milieu, a milieu of shared beliefs, customs, values, language, and thought processes.” Each person “likely experiences the museum differently as a result.” Also the “museums themselves are created by people with cultural values and beliefs that shaped their decisions about what they deemed to be valuable, worthy of keeping and caring for, and important to communicate to visitors.” (This is currently a hot topic itself in GamerGate etc. where people are more and more interested in the values and stereotypes that are carried inside popular culture[4].) “In addition to cultural factors, every museum visitor is strongly influenced by social interaction factors within the museum. Most people visit museums in a group, and those who visit alone invariably come into contact with other visitors and museum staff.”

This context splits into three in the Contextual Game Experience Model: The (ii) Immediate Social Contexts concern how the person’s “closest people regard game playing, the immediate historical and situational reasons they provide for digital play to take this form within this particular context.” The (iv) Context for Digital Games’ Production is not as tightly connected with the player, but is contributing through the stereotypes and everything that has – shaped the museums based on cultural values and beliefs deemed valuable, worthy of keeping and caring for , and important to communicate to the user. This is all underlaid by the (v) Wider Context of Social Norms and Values.

The Physical Context

What remains, is (3) the Physical Context. “The museum is a physical setting that visitors […] enter. The physical context includes the architecture and ‘feel’ of the building […] These physical context factors strongly influence how visitors move through the museum, what they observe and what they remember.” “The smell of the elephant house at a zoo may influence how long a time certain visitors will spend watching elephants.” “Also included in the physical context are objects and events visitors interact with both prior to and subsequent to the visit, including TV shows, internet sites, books or magazines.”

I would like to fit this together with the SCI-model inside the Contextual Game Experience Model. The Action Based Immersion would aliken with the museum visitor finding their way around the museum and being able to interact with objects.The smell of the elephant would be alike the Sensory Immersion. Understanding the reasoning behind why things are in the order that they are would be alike the Mental Immersion. However, Falk and Lynn say: “Personal context variables also help us understand how and why individuals develop specific personal visit narratives, narratives that support memories of, and learning from, the visit that typically last weeks, months, and even years”, where I see that Mäyrä also refers to narratives in the SCI-model’s Mental Immersion. This part may not be as clearly analogous between the two models, although it’s not completely dissimilar either.


Falk and Lynn’s introductory summary of the Contextual Model of Learning(?) finally introduces a fourth heading: “Time”, which “although […] is not a context per se, […] is a crucial fourth dimension of this model.” The idea here seems to be that the model is a living one for each individual. As Herakleitos said: “You can’t step in the same river twice.” Each visit to the museum is different. Within the same principle, each play of a digital game is different, based on the Contextual Game Experience Model, and all meaningful experiences are different.

Further thoughts

During this analysis, I noticed that Frans Mäyrä’s renaming of the Challenge Based Immersion of the SCI-model into Action Based Immersion seems to actually resolve the difficulty of generalising the use of the model to a wider field than just game design. In the article by me, Lahti and Smed[3] we thought about using something called “negative challenge based immersion” in cases where better immersion is achieved through lack of hindrances, instead of tacking challenges. This was probably inspired by the controversy around the Big Five personality trait “neuroticism”, which is the only trait where higher values tend to be considered worse than the lower values. The trait is therefore often addressed as it’s complement.

I also feel like noting here my thoughts about meaningful interactions vs. mere interactions that I have mentioned earlier in the post Awareness of awareness. This is derived from me reading an article by Jacucci[5], where they attribute to John Dewey a definition: “mere experience is passive endurance and acceptance of events, while an experience stands out ‘from the evennes of passing hours and years'”. “Mere experience”, and “an experience” or in my attempt to be more explicit: “meaningful/significant experience”.


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

[2] Falk, John H., and Lynn D. Dierking. Museum Experience Revisited. Left Coast Press, 2012.

[3] Suovuo, Tomi (bgt), Lahti, Ilmari, and Smed, Jouni. “Game Design Frameworks and Reality Guides” (submitted chapter)

[4] Magowan, Margot. “‘Minions’ most sexist kids’ movie of the year, rated Triple S for gender stereotyping”, (2015) Referred to in 15.7.2015

[5] Jacucci, Giulio, Antti Oulasvirta, and Antti Salovaara. “Active construction of experience through mobile media: a field study with implications for recording and sharing.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 11.4 (2007): 215-234.