Saturday, February 26, 2011

Flow: Entertainment and Enjoyment (Part 2 of 3)

Finding flow is important in our everyday existence, but it can also be an important element of our use of entertainment and enjoyment. 

Satisfaction from media as entertainment often share many of the same characteristics as flow, including having focused concentration, a sense of having control over the situation, focused concentration, loss of self-consciousness, a sense that one is in control of the situation, distortion of the sense of time, and the experience of eustress (aka positive stress).  

For example, as world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, mentions in her recent book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, when playing games, you create positive stress on purpose, and when we reach our optimal goals, we are taking on the best versions of ourselves.

My 20-year-old son began engaging in flow activities at two-years-old.  He loved puzzles so much that we had to turn puzzle pictures upside down in order to keep him focused.  By the age of five he was producing an impressive Lego library, and by eight he was building full-sized Lego robots.  He started training to be a “vidiot“ (videogame player) at the age of nine (and still is).  He soon advanced to playing poker, where his concentration at 12-years-old was so intense that he regularly beat out seasoned players in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Now he is a junior at University as a math major, and when he is faced with linear algebra problems (“the binary numbers are like puzzles, mom“) no one can interrupt his concentration.
Videogames in particular still capture his flow.  Every time he plays, his flow state is exemplified by striving to achieve a goal such as getting to the next level of play in a game.  His optimal state of engagement—or flow—is realized when there is a balance between the difficulty of the task and his skills. If the play is too easy, boredom ensues; too difficult, anxiety is induced and the flow state inhibited. 

Sherry, J. L. (2004). Flow and Media Enjoyment. Communications Theory, 14(4), 328-347.

McGonigal, Jane (2011). Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world.  New York: Penquin Press.

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