Flow

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* Flow (dutch)

Contents

General

Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounce 'chicks send me high'), the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

Many other terms and idioms exist for this mental state: to be on the ball, in the zone, or in the groove.

  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating - with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable - that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity - no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego - afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
  6. Timeliness - thoroughly focused on present, don't notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces "flow" becomes its own reward

Flow and games

A good game gives an equilibrium between challenge and skill

flow_en.jpg

Although Flow is a very general theory (and already from the early 80), for computer gaming it's interesting to see that it gives a good analysis of the motivational factor of gaming.

A game gives challenges to the player and the player develops abilities to conquer these challenges. Challenges can take the form of monsters to beat, obstacles to avoid, puzzles to solve, bases to attack, and systems to master, for example a plane. The abilities a player must develop depend on the game and can for example be reaction speed, strategic thinking, or knowledge. A game is only fun to play when the challenges are in balance with the abilities of the player. While the game progresses the abilities of the player improve and, hence, the challenges should become more difficult. It is the task of the game designer to keep challenges and abilities in balance. This situation is called the Flow. When challenges are two hard the player gets frustrated, when they are too easy the player gets bored. There actually is a band in which the game is still fun to play. If you get to the top of the flow you reach a state that is sometimes referred to as pleasurable frustration. It is good to let your game from time to time get to this top and then give some easier challenges again. This helps the player to improve his abilities. So the difficultly should zigzag through the flow.

Keeping a game in the flow is difficult because it depends on the player. The easiest way is to give the player the opportunity to choose a level but this is not very effective, unless there is a big reward in playing on a more difficult level and it is easy to change level during the game. A second option is to let the player skip certain challenges and do alternative ones, better suited to his abilities. But most players tend to take the easier route, even if it leads to boredom. So the best way is to adapt the challenges to the player. Monitor the players behavior (for example how much damage he takes) and adapt the number or (better) quality of the opponents to this. Make sure that the player always progresses but let the reward depend on his qualities.

Literature

References


Versions of this document

  • 20140821, update
  • 20080113, fiteam
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