I posted earlier this week about keeping game-playing fun. I’m sticking with that overarching sentiment, but I think the word ‘fun’ deserves a little more thought. The boy in the photo above is having a whole lotta fun – he’s rolling dice, counting and comparing the two numbers, making tally marks, and counting by 5s. I had to pry him away from the game, in order to eat dinner that night.
His dice game includes many of the elements that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi includes in his theory of flow:
- It’s a game with clear goals – roll the higher number and win more points
- He gets immediate feedback with each roll – he can see which number is higher
- He is in a state of balance between challenges to his math abilities (counting by 5s) and the skills he’s already gained (automatically identifying the number of dots)
- He is so immersed in the process that he doesn’t notice distractions
- He has no worry of failing – the process of playing is what he’s enjoying
- His sense of time has become distorted – Dinnertime? What are you talking about?
So the games we love the most are probably fun for us because they can take us into a state of flow. There is a huge connection between Csikszentmihlyi’s work and video games. Instead of either dismissing or demonizing video games, many scholars are investigating the value that engaging games bring to the lives of those who play them – Jenova Chen’s web-site is a great resource for anyone who’d like to learn more about flow in relation to video games.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.