3rd article in a series aimed at defining, delimiting and organizing the concepts of attention, immersion, involvement, engagement, flow and presence. This 3rd article deals with the concepts of involvement and engagement.

The other articles in the series:


This series of 5 articles includes part of the research article entitled Defining Engagement and Characterizing Engaged-Behaviors in Digital Gaming that was published in the journal Simulation & Gaming (Bouvier et al., 2014). You will find the reference at the end of the article.

Please note that while these articles have a video game dimension (playful or serious), the suggestions are also applicable to other technological and social activities such as virtual reality.


A concept that’s made to do the splits

The concept of involvement suffers from a somewhat flawed positioning. Sometimes it’s simply associated with immersion, sometimes it’s considered a phenomenon in its own right. Let’s take a look.

Brown and Cairns (2004) compare involvement to a cursor on a 3-level scale that reflects a player’s level of immersion (immersion is seen here as an “intense experience”).

In a more comprehensive way, Gordon Calleja (2007) identifies 6 dimensions of player involvement:

  • tactical involvement: strategy development;
  • performative involvement: possibility of control and movement;
  • shared involvement: social aspects;
  • narrative implication: the content;
  • affective involvement: aesthetics, pleasure;
  • spatial involvement: in the virtual world.

This work of identifying the different aspects of involvement is very interesting and to be encouraged. However, it is possible to disagree on several points. For example, why should pleasure be viewed as an aspect in its own right when it’s probably included within all the other aspects (for example, the pleasure of sharing a moment with your fellow players). We can also regret a position that originates in the context of the activity, here the video game. In a future article I will show how, within the framework of the QuEJAnT project, I have identified different dimensions of engagement by focusing on human psychology, not on the type of activity.


Wirth et al. (2007) consider involvement to be “the active and intensive processing

of the mediated world”. We concluded the 2nd article (Understanding and deconstructing the player experience (2/5) : attention – immersion) of this series by saying that immersion should provide a description of the virtual environment that is sufficiently intelligible for the user to appropriate it, that is, to understand the possibilities for action (what s/he can do or must do in the given environment and situation).

That’s why I prefer to take a position that is more similar to that of Wirth et al. (2007) by restricting involvement to actions performed by the user during the activity. Thus, I define involvement as

The willingness to exchange information with the system through the interaction devices. (Bouvier et al., 2014).

Sharing information means acquiring or communicating information to and from the system. Thus, it can take the form of navigation, manipulation, etc., in short anything related to the realisation of an action by the user. To complete the definition, this exchange of information can also take place with other entities (living or not) encountered during the game or virtual reality simulation.

To go further

This willingness to exchange information follows on the user’s judgment of the relevance of the tools and interaction methods offered during the activity. This judgment will therefore depend on the interaction tools and schemes, the user’s expectations (which depend in particular on previous experiences) and the usual practices in the context of the activity. Keyboard-mouse interfaces can be satisfactory for a game, but not in virtual reality.


Engagement here, Engagement there

Ah engagement, what a beautiful concept that’s been in vogue for several years, and not just to talk about the gaming experience.

Everybody talk about engaging experience. These days, technology must no longer simply be effective, it must also be engaging. You can find references to articles dealing with engagement from 8 different fields including marketing, web, or human-robot interactions in the article Defining Engagement and Characterizing Engaged-Behaviors in Digital Gaming (Bouvier et al., 2014).

While restraining themselves to the field of video games, Brown and Cairns (2004) define engagement as “the first stage of immersion” occurring before “engrossment” and then the most intense state they call “total immersion”.  Engagement is described as “the lowest level of involvement with a game and must occur before any other level“.

O’Brien and Toms (2008) describe an interesting engagement process: point of engagement, sustained engagement, disengagement and reengagement. They define engagement as “a quality of user experiences with technology that is characterized by challenge, aesthetic and sensory appeal, feedback, novelty, interactivity, perceived control and time, awareness, motivation, interest, and affect“.

Brockmeyer et al (2009) consider engagement to be “a generic indicator of game involvement“. Thus, engagement takes the form of a progressive scale whose levels are immersion, presence, flow and psychological absorption.

Finally, Chen et al (2011) define engagement as “a sustained level of involvement caused by capturing a person’s interest, holding the majority of a person’s attentional resources, and placing the person in an immersive state”.

The first criticism that can be made of these definitions is the reference to other ambiguous concepts such as immersion and involvement. They therefore do not clearly delimit these concepts. You will see in the final article in this series how all of these concepts, as I define them, work together particularly well 😊.

In addition, some definitions are also more factual or mix the factors and consequences of engagement. In this respect, these definitions do not make it possible to report on the state of player or user engagement.


My goal with the QuEJAnT project was to suggest a definition that doesn’t depend on the context (entertaining game or serious game), nor on the characteristics of the game (low or very immersive, simple or very advanced interaction tools, etc.). That is why I define engagement as

The willingness to have emotions, affect, and thoughts directed toward and aroused by the mediated activity in order to achieve a specific objective. (Bouvier et al., 2014).

This specific objective depends both on the activity and the user’s expectations. Engagement appears if the user’s expectations are met. These expectations can be either perceptual (how the virtual environment is rendered), intellectual (user’s interests, plot authenticity, etc.) or related to the means of interaction (natural or at least judged relevant).

To go further

Coleridge (1969) defines the suspension of disbelief as the willingness to accept, despite technical and narrative limitations or defects, fiction as reality. In a similar way, I consider that players agree to take part in the game, engage themselves, in order to experience the activity more intensely. This is done to feel the emotions evoked by the activity more intensely. Thus, as our definition of engagement indicates, players’ behavior is determined by the emotions sought, and the emotions felt during the game are the motives for playing.

Users therefore accept that for a certain period of time, which may last longer than the duration of the activity, their emotions, affect and thoughts will mainly be driven by the activity (e.g. the game). An engaged person will be able to think back to the last session of the activity, or anticipate the next session (by thinking about the strategy he or she will implement to solve a challenge, for example). Engagement can thus be seen as a link between several sessions of the same activity.

This definition of engagement, initially designed for entertainment and serious games, focuses on the state of engagement (unlike the definitions presented above) and can be applied to all technological or social activities as long as they are potentially engaging (such as the web, blogging etc.). What do you think?


Bouvier, P., Lavoué, E., & Sehaba, K. (2014). Defining Engagement and Characterizing Engaged-Behaviors in Digital Gaming. Simulation & Gaming, 45, 4-5, 491-507. PDF

Brockmyer, J. H., Fox, C. M., Curtiss, K. A., McBroom, E., Burkhart, K. M., & Pidruzny, J. N. (2009). The development of the Game Engagement Questionnaire: A measure of engagement in video game-playing. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 624-634.

Brown, E., & Cairns, P. (2004). A grounded investigation of game immersion. In CHI ’04 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (pp. 1297-1300), New York, NY: ACM.

Calleja, G. (2007). Revising immersion: A conceptual model for the analysis of digital game involvement. In Proceedings of Situated Play, the 2007 Digital Games Research Association Conference (pp. 83-90). Tokyo, Japan: The University of Tokyo.

Chen, M., Kolko, B. E., Cuddihy, E., & Medina, E. (2011). Modeling but not measuring engagement in computer games. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Games Learning Society (pp. 55-61). Madison, WI: ETC Press.

Coleridge, S. T. (1969). The collected works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London, England: Princeton University Press.

O’Brien, H. L., & Toms, E. G. (2008). What is user engagement? A conceptual framework for defining user engagement with technology. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 59, 938-955. Wirth, W., Hartmann, T., Bocking, S., Vorderer, P., Klimmt, C., Schramm, H., . . . Jäncke, P. (2007). A process model of the formation of spatial presence experiences. Media Psychology, 9, 493-525.