Flow and Video Games

All this talk about the “theory of flow” by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi made me think of the game I played in High School titled “flOw”, a game created by Jenova Chen for his master’s thesis . The concept of the game is that the player starts out as an aquatic microorganism that grows in size as it eats other microorganisms. The levels consist of two dimensional planes where the player can choose to proceed to the next level or stay in the current one to eat more microorganisms.  The only rule is that the player cannot eat a microorganism that is larger than them.  Some organisms are aggressive and may succeed in defeating the player’s creature but instead of starting the game over the player only goes back a level.  This game is accompanied by a mesmerizing, ambient soundtrack. Here’s a clip of what the game looks like on the Ps3:

I was surprised to discover that this game was created on Csíkszentmihályi’s principles of flow.  After reading Csíkszentmihályi’s work on the theory of flow, Chen aimed to utilize flow to develop an engaging video game.  To achieve the state of flow, Chen wanted the player to have a sense of control over their actions.  This was demonstrated in how the player can choose to eat or not eat any creature they encounter. Players also have the choice to dive down to the next level or grow extremely strong before preceding. Chen’s implementation of the principles of flow provided for a truly immersive experience for the player. Along with the graphics and serene music any individual will get encompassed in this game and the sense of time will  be distorted.  I believe that Chen accomplished his goal in including the principles of flow in his game design.

Chen’s new project is a game called “Flower”. It is similar to “flOw” in that the player has complete control over their actions.  The player controls a group of flower petals that float on the wind through a soaring landscape. The player must guide the petals to different flower buds so that the buds can bloom into beautiful flowers.  Chen utilizes the same design aesthetic as his previous game as well as the relaxing music. Chen utilizes the art of simplicity in his games which creates a truly engaging experience.

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