Posted by smokemare (254 posts) -

I haven't thought about 'Flow' for a while, not since I was doing an academic course on video games some time ago.  However last night I was playing a few rounds of Left 4 Dead 2 on scavenge mode and it struck me, "I am getting into a really good, deep state of 'Flow' here."  Anyone who's studied video game culture in any way shape or form has probably encountered 'flow'.  If you play games you've encountered it - but maybe not realised that there is a term for the state of mind you get into while playing games sometimes. 
 
So what is 'flow' ?  It is the state of mind you get into, when you become so focused on the task your doing, that you lose all sense of time, awareness and self.  I used to tell me wife I'd stayed up an hour later than agreed, because I was, 'In the zone.' meaning, doing well, enjoying myself and lost track of time.  In hindsight, on these occasions I had been in 'flow'. 
 
It strikes me there are different levels of 'flow' as well as types.  I used to get flow from playing the likes of Final Fantasy 7, and in the same way I got into flow playing Red Dead Redemption.  In these cases it isn't the intensity of the gameplay that takes you into flow, but the story.  In this respect it's possible to enter flow when reading a really good book as much as playing a game.  I tend to think it's easier to get in, playing high intensity games, like Guitar Hero, Streetfighter or FPS.  I suspect this reason is part of why these genres are so popular.   I find some games can take you deeper into flow than others.  It's probably just perception, but I recognise being in a different mental state playing certain games.  Sometimes it can be an uncomfortable state, a state where because the challenge is everything in your reality - failing can be frustrating.  Far more frustrating than it ought to be. 
 
I've experienced this playing Guitar Hero and Streetfighter 2.  In Guitar Hero it tends to be playing the most difficult tracks, the likes of Jordan or Through the Fire and flames.  the fact is I'm actually no great shakes at Guitar Hero, I can get through most normal songs on expert with 3 stars, but Jordan or TTFAF I can't even get through on expert - mainly because I've never learned to double tap.   
 
With Streetfighter it tends to be playing online that get's me very deep in flow, but also mega frustrated.  I don't know whether it's me having good and bad days, or the quality of opponents at different times or lag at different times - whatever.  Something means I can have great nights playing it, and awful nights.  I've been playing Streetfighter 2 in one form or another since 1989 - I completed the original Streetfighter too - even though it's pretty awful.  I am a pretty decent player - originally I was a Dhalsim player, then a Ryu, then Vega(Claw).  I more or less settled on Claw a long time ago - but the XBOX 360 pad reinforced that.  I can do all his specials and his super easily.  If you look at my gamercard :  http://www.streetfighter.com/flash/#/sfhd/gamercards/  then type smokemare into the box and hit search.  Last time I stopped playing I was on 701 wins to 671 losses... But with 207 perfects.  Now that's the card of a decent, but not amazing player - but 207 perfects is pretty impressive. 
 
Why do I say last time I stopped playing?  Because I can't allow myself to play Super Streetfighter 2 Turbo HD Remix.  Except in tiny amounts, if I get into it - I get really frustrated and it puts me in a bad mood that lasts days - unless I happen to be having a winning streak.  It's a pity because I love the game, but I don't like hte bad moods it puts me into when I end up on the wrong side at the end of a session (More losses than wins.) 
 
You can get flow from many activities, my wife says she gets it from skiing, but she never got it from games.  I think whether you get flow from games dictates whether you are a gamer.  In some ways you can see how it's hard for newcomers to get flow from games, particularly the older players.  Controls are so complex now, young people adapt quickly and ancient gamers such as myself grew up with controls growing ever more complex.  If your old and never played before then navigating a 360 or PS3 pad is going to be a nightmare. 
I suppose this is partly why Microsoft developed Kinnect, Sony developed Move and Nintendo did the Wii, it's a way of getting people to enjoy gaming without having to learn complex controls.  Not that it's a problem for most - more than anything it's probably for the very young and those who missed the boat, (Although last night my 3 year old beat level 1 of sonic 4, becoming 'super sonic' and getting into the special level :P) 
 
My issues with the Wii and Kinnect are that I don't think the technology is there yet.  Kinnect feels very clunky, and I don't think the Wii games have the intensity to satisfy my inner gamer. I find them bland and shallow as a rule. 
 
We're in interesting times, where gaming goes in the next ten years could be fascinating.   As long as the controller lives on though - I'll be happy.  I don't think we can be too fearful of motion controls either. Anything that gives respectability and popularity to gaming has to be a good thing.  We are no longer the spotty, nerdy teenagers, with pasty white skin, sitting in the dark playing on our Commadore 64's or spectrums,... We're cool :-)

#1 Posted by smokemare (254 posts) -

I haven't thought about 'Flow' for a while, not since I was doing an academic course on video games some time ago.  However last night I was playing a few rounds of Left 4 Dead 2 on scavenge mode and it struck me, "I am getting into a really good, deep state of 'Flow' here."  Anyone who's studied video game culture in any way shape or form has probably encountered 'flow'.  If you play games you've encountered it - but maybe not realised that there is a term for the state of mind you get into while playing games sometimes. 
 
So what is 'flow' ?  It is the state of mind you get into, when you become so focused on the task your doing, that you lose all sense of time, awareness and self.  I used to tell me wife I'd stayed up an hour later than agreed, because I was, 'In the zone.' meaning, doing well, enjoying myself and lost track of time.  In hindsight, on these occasions I had been in 'flow'. 
 
It strikes me there are different levels of 'flow' as well as types.  I used to get flow from playing the likes of Final Fantasy 7, and in the same way I got into flow playing Red Dead Redemption.  In these cases it isn't the intensity of the gameplay that takes you into flow, but the story.  In this respect it's possible to enter flow when reading a really good book as much as playing a game.  I tend to think it's easier to get in, playing high intensity games, like Guitar Hero, Streetfighter or FPS.  I suspect this reason is part of why these genres are so popular.   I find some games can take you deeper into flow than others.  It's probably just perception, but I recognise being in a different mental state playing certain games.  Sometimes it can be an uncomfortable state, a state where because the challenge is everything in your reality - failing can be frustrating.  Far more frustrating than it ought to be. 
 
I've experienced this playing Guitar Hero and Streetfighter 2.  In Guitar Hero it tends to be playing the most difficult tracks, the likes of Jordan or Through the Fire and flames.  the fact is I'm actually no great shakes at Guitar Hero, I can get through most normal songs on expert with 3 stars, but Jordan or TTFAF I can't even get through on expert - mainly because I've never learned to double tap.   
 
With Streetfighter it tends to be playing online that get's me very deep in flow, but also mega frustrated.  I don't know whether it's me having good and bad days, or the quality of opponents at different times or lag at different times - whatever.  Something means I can have great nights playing it, and awful nights.  I've been playing Streetfighter 2 in one form or another since 1989 - I completed the original Streetfighter too - even though it's pretty awful.  I am a pretty decent player - originally I was a Dhalsim player, then a Ryu, then Vega(Claw).  I more or less settled on Claw a long time ago - but the XBOX 360 pad reinforced that.  I can do all his specials and his super easily.  If you look at my gamercard :  http://www.streetfighter.com/flash/#/sfhd/gamercards/  then type smokemare into the box and hit search.  Last time I stopped playing I was on 701 wins to 671 losses... But with 207 perfects.  Now that's the card of a decent, but not amazing player - but 207 perfects is pretty impressive. 
 
Why do I say last time I stopped playing?  Because I can't allow myself to play Super Streetfighter 2 Turbo HD Remix.  Except in tiny amounts, if I get into it - I get really frustrated and it puts me in a bad mood that lasts days - unless I happen to be having a winning streak.  It's a pity because I love the game, but I don't like hte bad moods it puts me into when I end up on the wrong side at the end of a session (More losses than wins.) 
 
You can get flow from many activities, my wife says she gets it from skiing, but she never got it from games.  I think whether you get flow from games dictates whether you are a gamer.  In some ways you can see how it's hard for newcomers to get flow from games, particularly the older players.  Controls are so complex now, young people adapt quickly and ancient gamers such as myself grew up with controls growing ever more complex.  If your old and never played before then navigating a 360 or PS3 pad is going to be a nightmare. 
I suppose this is partly why Microsoft developed Kinnect, Sony developed Move and Nintendo did the Wii, it's a way of getting people to enjoy gaming without having to learn complex controls.  Not that it's a problem for most - more than anything it's probably for the very young and those who missed the boat, (Although last night my 3 year old beat level 1 of sonic 4, becoming 'super sonic' and getting into the special level :P) 
 
My issues with the Wii and Kinnect are that I don't think the technology is there yet.  Kinnect feels very clunky, and I don't think the Wii games have the intensity to satisfy my inner gamer. I find them bland and shallow as a rule. 
 
We're in interesting times, where gaming goes in the next ten years could be fascinating.   As long as the controller lives on though - I'll be happy.  I don't think we can be too fearful of motion controls either. Anything that gives respectability and popularity to gaming has to be a good thing.  We are no longer the spotty, nerdy teenagers, with pasty white skin, sitting in the dark playing on our Commadore 64's or spectrums,... We're cool :-)

#2 Posted by Otogi (272 posts) -

That's pretty interesting, but you should probably make this a blog post instead.

#3 Posted by JasonR86 (9729 posts) -
@smokemare: 
 
'Flow' sounds an awful lot like an athlete who is 'getting in the zone'.
 
As a person who is an athlete and a gamer, I've experienced both.  Essentially, it's just a state of mind when you're concentrating really hard.  As a grad student studying psychology, I've never heard the term 'flow' before.  But, it's probably really similar to studies that look at different aspects of individuals who are adept at meditating. 
#4 Posted by BraveToaster (12588 posts) -
@Otogi said:
" That's pretty interesting, but you should probably make this a blog post instead. "
This is a blog post.
#5 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

I've found lately that a lot of games I've been playing have different levels of this for me. I'm pretty sure other people can stand the things that make me frustrated, and others are a lot more easily frustrated than me. Turn-based games tend to be a lot easier for me to handle lately just because I get to drop them at my leisure, think about what I'm going to do next, and input only when I'm sure.
 
Yet another game I've been playing, that old Maxis pinball game everyone gets with Windows, or at least got the last time I checked, was something that approached that level of flow you're talking about, where I found I sometimes did better the less I tried to scrutinize what I was doing next.
 
Yet both Gladius, the turn-based game I'm talking about, and the pinball game, both had what felt like an unobstructed gameplay experience that wasn't frustrating. Even the pinball game wasn't as frustrating as it seemed to want to be when it would sink me just before I got a nice combination or completed a task. This, compared to my recent frustrations with Spelunky and Baldur's Gate 2, sort of showed that while there may be richer experiences elsewhere, what I needed right then was to achieve a bit of an altered state, where I was challenged but in tune with that challenge, rather than being thrown brick walls all the time.
 
Heh, I was even thinking of blogging about this, but I guess I don't need to now :)

#6 Edited by RudeJohn (154 posts) -
@smokemare: Oh HELL yeah! Especially if Flow includes screaming "FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!" while you're playing Bad Company 2. Which is why I don't play it anymore. Too noisy. But I did go platinum on the knife. Loved running into enemy camps and stabbing a shit-load of guys in one go. I even remember my first set of gold tags. Sent the guy a thankyou. 
 
Seriously, that game was TOO intense. I named my knife "Mr. Stabby." Me and Mr. Stabby had good times. Guys on my team would laugh when I ran into enemy camps yelling, "STABBY STABBY! STABBY STABBY!" cuzz they knew a shitstorm had just hit town. 
 
But eventually all the spawn camping ruined it for me and a lot of other people. And I got bored and moved on to other things. But it was fun while it lasted and there was more than enough Flow to go around.
 
Oh shit, that reminds me. One time a random on our team cracked evrybody up when he told me, "Hey, you do know they issue you a gun, right?" Shit, I'm laughing right now.  :-)