Game Development Reference
Flow is a popular concept in psychology that is particularly applicable to
game design. It was originally described by the Hungarian psychologist
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He described it this way:
FLOW is a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to total
absorption in an activity.
Back in university, I spent some time in the Canadian Army Reserves.
One special thing about the army is that it is absolutely unacceptable to
show up even seconds late for anything.
I had drill at 7:00 on a Saturday one evening. I also made the mistake
of playing the fantasy strategy classic Heroes of Might and Magic III on
the same day. I had lots of time. Looking at the clock, it was 5:00 p.m. If I
started getting ready by 6:15 I could make it to the parade ground in good
time to change into uniform.
But Heroes III is very good at pulling you into flow. I moved my hero,
fought some gryphons and troglodytes, captured a city and grabbed some
treasure. Seemingly a few minutes later, I looked over at the clock. It was
6:37. It was a long sprint to the drill hall.
Flow makes time seem to disappear. Hours can seem like minutes
when a player is utterly engrossed in an activity. It is the perfect form of
escapism because it strips everything else out of the mind. In flow, we
don't worry about bills, relationships, money, or whether we're going to get
screamed at by a drill instructor. And flow is pleasurable because it is built
on a continuous stream of tiny successes.
Flow appears when a player is presented with a challenge that is per-
fectly balanced against his ability level. If the task is too hard, flow breaks
as the player becomes confused and anxious. If it is too easy, the player
gets bored. Graphed, it looks like this:
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