Monday, January 17, 2005

Going with the flow

Over the holidays, I caught up on my reading by working my way through "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

"In work, sport, conversation or hobby, you have experienced, yourself, the suspension of time, the freedom of complete absorption in activity. This is "flow," an experience that is at once demanding and rewarding--an experience that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates is one of the most enjoyable and valuable experiences a person can have."

What struck me was how well the experience of playing MMOGs matches up with the characteristics of a flow activity. Below, I paraphrase the 7 characteristics of a flow activity:

The characteristics of a flow activity

1. A challenging activity that requires skills (but not so challenging as to cause anxiety
2. The merging of action and awareness (complete attention)
3. Clear goals and feedback
4. Concentration on the task at hand
5. The paradox of control (the potential of control)
6. The loss of self consciousness
7. The transformation of time

Let's look at them one by one, and see how MMOGs fit in:

1. A challenging activity that requires skills (but not so challenging as to cause anxiety

MMOGs definitely require skills ranging from strategy to communication to discipline. Yet at the same time, MMOGs aren't so challenging that they cause anxiety. If you are willing to put in the time, you can advance and be successful.

2. The merging of action and awareness (complete attention)

Think of the last time you were so caught up in playing that you didn't hear your spouse/girlfriend/mother/cellmate ask you a question. 'Nuff said.

3. Clear goals and feedback

This is one of the huge advantages MMOGs have over real life. All you have to do is to look at your level and your possessions, and you know where you stand. Plus, feedback is constant (especially for the latest generation of "casual" games like City of Heroes). Contrast this with the years it takes to get feedback and promotion in the corporate world.

4. Concentration on the task at hand

See #2.

5. The paradox of control (things may not always be under your control, but you always have the potential to control the situation)

There's no question that many players feel more in control in virtual worlds than in the real world.

6. The loss of self consciousness

Once the virtual world becomes more real than real life, we are definitely talking about a loss of self-consciousness. While skeptics consider this an identity crisis, in a different light, it is actually a sign of a flow activity.

7. The transformation of time

Every played for 8 hours straight? 8 days straight?

Participating in a flow activity is perhaps the most enjoyable thing a person can do. Given how well MMOGs match up with the characteristics of flow activities, is it any wonder that MMOGs are becoming such an important part of their residents' lives?

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