A deceptively simple video game called "flOw," in which players control the feeding and evolution of an aquatic organism, is making waves in the $30 billion market better known for fictional blood and bullets.Let's get a better description of flow than happy/fulfilled/immersed/Zen. In his book -- at page 49 of the 1991 Harper Perennial edition -- Csikszentmihalyi describes flow in terms of 8 components:
The game forsakes typical testosterone-fueled activities of killing, racing and blowing stuff up. Inspired by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory, which holds that people are happy and fulfilled when they are fully immersed in what they are doing, "flOw" is pure Zen.
First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.(I originally typed that out to use in this article, which I wrote for the "Bloggership" conference. I say that that blogging is a flow experience for me. But this post isn't about that.)
Now, looking at that description of flow, I think you can see that all good video games produce flow, whether they are called "flow" or "flOw" or "fLoW" or whatever. The real question -- assuming you decide you want to live in flow -- is whether you should be finding your flow in games that have been manufactured to produce a flow experience. You can see that part of flow is becoming absorbed for long periods of time in something of a trancelike state. The book highlights individuals who find flow doing productive or healthy things like surgery and rock climbing. If you're finding your flow in something that is sedentary, uncreative, and nonlucrative, well, it might be okay. But maybe it's a problem. And I say that as someone who used to throw away a stupid amount of time playing games like Tetris.