The Pleasure of the System: Cybernetic Feedback Loops and Flow in Video Games


  • Alison Harvey York University


Research on the nature of the medium of the video game probes questions of the appropriateness of the application therein of narrative, cybernetics, and traditional game theory, among other approaches. This paper explores the mobilization of theories of cybernetics within game theory, particularly in light of how the body is theorized in classic cybernetics work, current technoscience research on artificial intelligence and embodiment, and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) work on flow. How do ‘video games as cybertext’ theories mobilize and apply cybernetics, and how does the application of concepts in video game theory such as ergodics and feedback loops extend their preceding cybernetics conceptions? Furthermore, how do straightforward questions of systematic human-computer interactions relate to play and flow theory in video game studies, which address the pleasure and the immersive experience of video game play? Through an introduction to some components of the play experience, I will weigh the structural approach of cybernetics against the more ephemeral components of the affect of gameplay experience as described in flow theory. Can the use of cybernetics as applied to the medium that has been argued by Lahti (2003) to induce not simply cognitive but carnal pleasures rehabilitate conceptions of feedback loops that have increasingly displaced the body?

Author Biography

Alison Harvey, York University

Alison is a second year doctoral student in the Joint Programme in Communication and Culture at York University.