Zac Hill, who is on the Development Team for Magic: the Gathering, wrote an excellent article the other day: Sculpting Flow and Fiero. It's written from a Magic perspective, but a lot of it applies to games in general.
Flow and fiero are the two emotions evoked by games. From Zac Hill's article, here is the description of flow:
The flow experience is one of the most universally euphoric experiences human beings enjoy. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines it as "the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning." In fact, he dedicated almost a decade of his life to researching flow. Where can we find it? Why do we enjoy it so much? And what are the secrets to getting more of it?
Csikszentmihalyi found that central to the flow experience were three factors: clear goals, rigidly defined rules of engagement, and the potential for measured improvement in the context of those goals and rules.And the description of fiero:
If flow represents the height of the human capacity to learn—and therefore to triumph—fiero is the payoff that happens once we do that.
According to Dr. McGonigal, fiero is "possibly the most primal rush we can experience." It's the feeling we get when we conquer an obstacle that, for whatever reason, is emotionally important to us. It's the weird and surreal force that leads to touchdown dances, fist-pumps, and the compulsion to scream "GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL" when someone scores in a Premier League football match.
The harder the challenge, the more severe the payoff. We love, after all, to confirm our own narratives of exceptionalism. But the obstacles we overcome must feel genuine. If I've just taught someone Magic, something is wrong with me if I just relish the opportunity to bash in that player's face by playing every match like it's the finals of the Pro Tour. On the other hand, a masterfully sculpted game like the recent Kibler-Finkel semifinals feels like a well-choreographed dance, and the moments where we win such games feel viscerally like they mean something. The root of that meaning is the fiero impulse, which inspires optimism by evincing mastery—and mastery helps us feel capable of meeting the most intense challenges of our lives.An excellent article, and these two concepts seem very important to MMOs. The part that MMOs are struggling with is taking the flow and fiero, which exist on an individual level, and trying to evoke them on the group level.