What makes a game feel good?

I’ve wondered what makes certain games ‘feel’ better almost as long as I’ve noticed it. I asked Reddit what they thought and it made me realise that it’s even harder to answer this question people seem to have different definitions of what game ‘feel’ is anyway. Something about the controls being responsive, cohesive interactions with appropriate feedback, a consistent aesthetic, as well as a half dozen other indicators factor in, apparently.

Psychology uses the term ‘flow’ to describe a state of complete focus, involvement, and success. I’d consider a game with good ‘feel’ to be one that is effective at having the player enter a state of flow. This supports most of the ideas proposed in the Reddit comments; poor controls or feedback will break immersion or prevent it in the first place. Wikipedia lists ten factors that the psychologist Csíkszentmihályi defined as all contributing to flow:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Concentrating
  3. loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
  4. Distorted sense of time
  5. Direct and immediate feedback
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge
  7. A sense of personal control
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a list of requirements for a great video game! All these things contribute to that sense of being in the zone, when you feel unnaturally able to get headshots in Counter-Strike or perfectly drift corners three corners in a row, to when you truly feel you are in the game rather than controlling the game.