Game Development Reference
not enough to tell a game designer just to balance skill against challenge.
Real flow isn't smeared with a big brush over a whole experience by the
measurement of these gross quantities. Rather, it's a delicate dance of
moment-to-moment decision timing.
Imagine the player's mind is a small cup with a hole in the bottom.
The game can place quantities of water into the cup. Maintaining flow
means ensuring that water is always draining through the hole, without
the cup ever overflowing. This means constantly putting more quantities
of water in, without ever putting in too much.
Those quantities of water are decisions. As soon as they enter the
mind, it starts working on them. Most last only moments. To keep the
mind flowing, we have to keep feeding it decisions at just the right rate.
Too little, and it drains out within seconds and boredom sets in. Too much,
and it overflows, breaking flow. To do this, we have to get the size and
timing of decisions just right.
DECISION SCOPE is the amount of thought a decision takes to make.
Decision scope is the “size” of a decision as it passes through the mind.
In the water and cup metaphor, it is the amount of water that this decision
puts into the cup. Complex decisions involving many variables are large in
scope because they can occupy the mind for a long time. Easy decisions
with just one or two variables are the opposite.
We can group decisions into five categories of scope. From smallest
to largest, they are nondecisions, twitch decisions, tactical decisions, pro-
found decisions, and impossible decisions.
Nondecisions are decisions whose answers are so obvious that they
cease to be decisions at all. For example, when you make breakfast cereal,
you pour milk into it. The decision to pour milk into the cereal isn't really
a decision because it only engages the mind in the most cursory way. It's
such an obvious thing to do that you can do it by pure habit. When you
were a child, this might have been a decision. But today, the decision has
shrunk to nothing, leaving only a thoughtless action. Nondecisions like
this can keep the player's fingers busy, but they don't contribute to flow
since they don't engage the mind.
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