A Pac-Man theory of motivation (Bowman, 1982)

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A Pac-Man theory of motivation. Tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22(9), 14–17.

In this article, Bowman discusses the intrinsic, extrinsic and “means-ends” motivational supports of video games and arcades, using Pac-Man as an example. Interviews with “arcadians” formed the basis of many of Bowman’s conclusions.
Csikzentmihalyi and Larson (1980) posit the thesis of a balanced state of interaction: “Flow is described as a condition in which one concentrates on the task at hand to the exclusion of other internal or external stimuli. Action and awareness merge, so that one simply does what is to be done without a critical, dualistic perspective on one’s actions. Goals tend to be clear, means are coordinated to the goals, and feedback to one’s performance is immediate and unambiguous. In such a situation, a person has a strong feeling of control-or personal causation-yet, paradoxically, ego involvement is low or nonexistent, so that one experiences a sense of transcendence of self sometimes a feeling of union with the environment. The passage of time appears to be distorted: Some events seem to take a disproportionately long time, but, in general, hours
seem to pass by in minutes” (Csikzentmihalyi & Larson, 1980, p. 64).

Ultimately, Bowman concludes that “Pac-Man‘s addictiveness would be explained as follows: It is an action system where skills and challenges are progressively balanced, goals are clear, feedback is immediate and unambiguous, and relevant stimuli can be
differentiated from irrelevant stimuli. Together, this combination contributes to the formation of a flow experience” (p. 15).

“…video gamesmanship represents conscious, deliberate mental and physical activity.
It promotes active learning by shifting players into the participant role. Each strategic movement generates a visible response. Moreover, the immediacy of reciprocal responses reduces the sense of distance between one’s efforts and one’s successes.
External stimuli are controlled to focus and define exploration and problem-solving. Challenges are matched to participants’ developmental levels to create a psychological sense of flow. Relatedly, one’s efforts count for something: status, self-determination,
and sustained enjoyment” (p. 16).


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