Games and Flow

What is flow? Its basically completely absorping yourself in something in a positive way. Being in the zone.

There are nine factors to flow (from Wikipedia):

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
  • “Immediate feedback”
  • Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
  • Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

Reaching flow from time to time is good. It helps you stay sane, basically.

However, the modern world doesn’t lend itself to this very easily. When I work, I try to isolate myself from my environment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t distractions, like emails I can’t ignore, various alerts Windows has decided to give me, people walking past me and sometimes they need to talk to me. The whole situation is built in such a way that I just can’t reach flow at my workplace. Even the so-called silent areas are hardly respected, as people need to communicate with each other and often break the rules to do so.

Still, I need to reach flow. Not all the time, but I do need it. Otherwise, the stress would probably break me. How do I do it? I play games.

Recently, my choice has been One Finger Death Punch (the PC version). I’m not very good at it. In fact, I probably suck at it compared to the time I’ve played it and I haven’t even reached mastery yet (basically playing the game through the first time). Still, for short periods at a time, I can reach flow with it. I don’t know it when its happening, but afterwards, I just notice that now I’ve killed an extraordinary number of stick men without missing or getting hit. I didn’t have to plan anything. Somehow I just knew, because for a short period of time, I was operating on a different level of consciousness.

… and its a nice feeling. Sort of liberating. The game itself sometimes works against it, when it sometimes stops for effects, but those moments are also immediate feedback on something. I’ve played the game quite a bit and I’m still not sure what I do to get those moments, so they miss the point of feedback somewhat, but I know I’m doing well.

Of course, One Finger Death Punch isn’t he only game out there that works similarly. I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost quite a few nights of sleep just to play one more turn of different versions of Civilization. That’s different from the flow of One Finger Death Punch, but still clearly flow. I’m just making decisions fast, because I know where everything is, where I want everything to be and how to get there.

So, if there’s no other value to games (and there definitely is), at least they keep me sane, which should be good enough for everyone to find themselves a good game to get into.

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