Putting an end to the flow

            Is it possible? To write without style? To speak without rhythm? To play without flow?

A few years ago, psycho-explorers discovered flow. It was a cape, a peak, an optimum of concentration. It was an ocean of productivity in which to immerse yourself, and it seemed to reinvent the world by describing the dream of every happiness manager. We’re in flow every time we forget ourselves in the activity that takes us away. So in games too, it became commonplace to be carried away by flow.

Flow is that little interstice into which our gaming pleasure fits. Between the difficulty of an objective and the power of a player. The fun is claustrophilic, at last inclined to huddle in a cozy little enclave. The game is not too naughty, not too mean. We’d be scared. We’d be annoyed by injustices that were too harsh. The game isn’t too nice either, too attentive to my desires. A good game knows how to make itself desired. Otherwise, you’d get bored.

Le flow dans les jeux

            I feel like I’m listening to the flirting advice of a prepubescent incel. The right pick-up artist is in the flow, you see. Not too boring, not too clever, just enough to keep his prey happy. The formula works, because it’s the same for all of them, and because they’re all the same. Or because those who buy the formula are convinced of it.

            Still, the flow thing works. It’s true, it’s scientific. Game designers like it. So I was inspired. I made a curve too.

Caricature du flow

At 8 o’clock, my eyes hurt if the screen is too bright. But at midday, if the screen displaying the game isn’t bright enough, I can’t see a thing. Therefore, the fun of a video game depends mainly on the brightness of the screen. CQFD.

            Be careful, though. There are important distinctions to be made. At least according to the graphics. Not all profiles are the same. In video games, players are divided into two clans. The following graph shows that novices, or big noobs, have a much lower curve. They like to be bored, I think. And then above them, there are the HARCORE G@MERS. They’re a lot tougher, they’re not even afraid of being scared.

            Flow is that little gap in which we’ve enclosed our gaming pleasure. Fun, that’s what these graphics guarantee. Maybe they’re not completely wrong. Maybe they really do describe the conditions in which fun can occur. But the veracity of a model isn’t the only criterion for judging it. Otherwise, I think my luminosity theory would be even more successful.

           When flow promised me fun, I got fun. So be it. I played Animal Crossing. I didn’t get bored. I played Europa Universalis IV, and felt no anxiety. Games that mobilize either an absence or an omnipresence of difficulties, knowledge and skills.

le flow remis en question

           And then I played World of Warcraft to meet up with some friends. Was it fun? I played Minecraft to keep my insomnia at bay. I wandered around Death Strading to rediscover the pleasure of walking. I returned to Yharnam to take a look at its bell towers. I listened to characters who look like me in the café of Coffee talk. Is it fun to play video games? Is it the game that’s fun, or all the arrangements that bring it into my life? Each time I adjust to a game as a new terrain, or as a small home, is it the game that gives me pleasure? or the moment, the partners, the circumstances of that game?

           All this flow overflowing with fun makes me furiously think of all those theorists of lost centuries who tried to explain what a beautiful text was by describing the words it was allowed to contain. By dint of totalizing, we end up forgetting that everything eventually changes, and that even fun won’t reign forever. Frustration and boredom make sense in a game, as do contemplation, empathy and revolt.

  • Cultist Simulator

            Besides, you have to work on your flow. In rap, the absence of flow can become flow. PLUGG lets the beats pass and always finishes her sentences outside the tempo. Impertinence becomes a new rule, and creates other ways of speaking.

“J’rap tellement bien qu’on dit que j’rap mal
“I rap so well that people say I rap badly”.
Kery James, Le combat continue, pt3

            Personally, I’m a bit angry at this game design flow for hiding the other flows. The objective characteristic, drawn by clever graphics, has turned flow into fun. The flow remained in its game designer’s cradle, as if neutralized. Yet it could have revealed the immense powers of self-discovery that every player learns to maintain. The precarious equilibrium in which we hold ourselves in hypnosis in front of the screen, which transfigures us completely, or transports us out of the world. A whole technique that has little to do with our motor skills. We learn to let ourselves be overtaken, and so much the better if our hands can’t keep up, or so much the better if everything is too strange. Finally, we can let ourselves be carried away, sailing the flows.

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