[MUD-Dev] Re: Balancing between anxiety and boredom (was RE: [MUD-Dev] Fair/Unfair? Scenarios (fwd) )

Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no> Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no>
Sat Dec 18 15:35:57 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

"Sellers, Michael" wrote:
> Interestingly enough, I'm reading a book called "Beyond Boredom and Anxiety"
> by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (University of Chicago? not sure).  It's about
> the psychology of 'flow' experiences, also characterized in our industry as
> engagement, enjoyment, etc.  I haven't finished the book, but his thesis
> seems to be that there is a region that can be graphed between two axes:
> skills on the X, and challenges on the Y.  If the challenges-per-skill are
> too high, the individual becomes anxious.  If the challenges-per-skill are
> too low (or too infrequent, etc.), the individual becomes bored (and oddly,
> eventually anxious again, if this sinks too low -- I believe from other
> reading that this relates back to long-term habituation, but that's a
> different matter).

I haven't read that title, but Flow theory, or the theory of optimal
experience is described in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "Flow: the psychology of
optimal experience".
Our everyday lives are governed by many external rules and limitations...

   Yet we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by
   anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our
   own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of
   exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and
   that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like. - This
   is what we mean by optimal experience. (Csikszentmihalyi)

He then describes (eight, according to my counting) aspects of flow
(translated from norwegian):

1. A challenging activity requiring skill, but it should be possible to
achieve the goals.
2. Melting? of action and activity. Concentration. The "magic" of the
activity is the moving force, and we see no reason to question our actions.
3. Clear goals. Or if lacking clear goals the person needs to "know" what
he is trying to achieve.
4. Feedback. (perceptual satisfaction, confirmation of things that you want
to view yourself as (a winner, a popular person))
5. Focus on the task. The activity keeps our brain busy, and thus keeps the
nasty thoughts about life at an arms distance. (escapism?)
6. Control paradox. Believing in the possibility that you may be able to
control the situation, but not actually having control. Believing that your
own actions are making the situation controllable.
7. Loss of self-consciousness. You are more focused on the activity than
your ego. You don't feel a separation between you and the rest of the
world/team. (immersion?)
8. Transformation of time. Hours feel like minutes.

I think it is important to point out that there is a lot of room for
subjectivity here. One example he uses is the religious hobo that believes
that his belief and persistence is "controlling" his relationship to God and
that is all that matters. (or something like that)

For game designers it is probably worth mentioning (although I guess it
ought to be obvious) that the challenge isn't enough, but the player need to
"understand" the challenge. The skills are not necessarily important either,
but it is important that we "believe" that we have them.

This is, in my opinion, particularly interesting when thinking about CRPG. 
The players have few or no skills, yet the popularity of roleplaying games
suggests that the players experience a flow situation. They "believe" that
the skills their characters have somehow relate to them. Even though the
actual skill used may be limited to making decisions about whether you
should bash an orc or wait another level. Now, try to convince me that
humans are rational.

It is my opinion that Flow is one of the better frameworks for thinking
about virtual worlds, but I one need to emphasize the SUBJECTIVE
aspect which complicate things quite a bit.

Ola Fosheim Groestad,Norway      http://www.notam.uio.no/~olagr/

MUD-Dev maillist  -  MUD-Dev at kanga.nu

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