Episode 1: Flow

October 28th, 2016

View on iTunes | RSS Feed

Flow. You've experienced it, but you might not know exactly what it is. In this episode, we'll discuss what this state is, the requirements to achieve it, and how it's relevant to players and game designers. We'll see how this claim holds up: "If you can get into flow, you can enjoy any game."

Episode Summary

The following is a summary on Episode 1: Flow. If you'd like the full transcript, which also include timestamps and section headers, you can access the episode's full transcipt

Level 1: What is Flow

In this section, we lay out specifically what Flow is and the requirements to achieve it. The rules are:

  1. Rule 1. Skill vs. Challenge Match
    Your skill and game's difficulty must be roughly matched

  2. Rule 2. Clear Goals and Immediate Feedback
    You must know what to do, and you must be given clear feedback when you do it

  3. Rule 3. Fully Focused Attention
    You cannot be distracted - you cannot be multitasking

We also discuss things that get in the way of obtaining flow experiences - from external distractions like lag, to internal distractions like ego.

Level 2: What Flow is Not

Now that we know what flow is, let's look at what flow is not. Just like movies can be blockbuster hits without saying anything meaningful, so games can create enjoyable experiences without producing flow. Flow is a deep, rewarding state that requires all three rules to be met. Some games, intentionally or not, exploit the rule of "Clear goals and immediate feedback" to trick your brain into giving you dopamine hits, but neglect the other rules, leading to shallow, almost drug-like engagement. We discuss virtual progress and how relying on it too much can lead to rewarding, truly enjoyable experiences.

Level 3: Designing Games with Flow

Here, we look at how we can take the rules of flow and apply them to game design. Few general techniques exist, and designing for flow is something that should be considered from the start. It's not something that can be tacked on. We discuss how to apply techniques not just to "what you're playing", but to "how you're playing it." We survey tools, such as leaderboards and data visualization, and discuss the impact they can have on generating flow in games.

Level 4: Interview

Let's analyze Counterstrike, a FPS (first person shooter) with someone who has never played it nor has any desire to. Alisen plays counterstrike and we discuss her experiences playing it. We put to the test the thesis that "if you experience flow, you can have fun playing any game."

At a Higher Level: Conclusion

Flow is not limited to games. The types of games we play define what type of player we are. We are defined by where we direct our attention. This is true outside of games. You can turn anything into a flow experience by fulfilling the three requirements. Whether it's at work, when practicing piano, or doing chores - you can have more rewarding experiences by turning "normal" activities into flow producing ones. It's not about what you're doing, it's about how you're doing it. The more games you play and the more flow experiences in them you have, the better game player you become. The more flow experiences you have in life, perhaps you will become a better play at the game of life.

Links and Resources


Want even more? Read the episode's full transcipt


Questions, comments, criticisms?
Follow @AtAHigherLevel on twitter, or reach out to Erik personally at @ErikHazzard.