This past week, I had the pleasure of having the best homework assignment ever: play at least one hour of videogames, and blog about it and how the process of gaming can be related to education. Best. Assignment. Ever. However, the only caveat was that we couldn’t play something we have played before (or as Dr Z singled me out: No Halo). I decided to try a new game that some of my gamer friends have been oozing over on twitter: Dark Souls.
Dark Souls was the worst video game I ever played. After almost 2 hours of playing, I had lost count of how many times I had died, and still had no clue what I was doing. I just never could reach the level of “flow”, as outlined by Mark McGuinness. Here’s how Dark Souls stacked up:
- There are clear goals every step of the way.I never had any idea what was going on. All the in-game dialogue in “ye olde english” didn’t help the confusing story at all either.
- There is immediate feedback to your actions. Well, if I hit the wrong button, or forgot to block, I died. I guess that’s immediate feedback…
- There is a balance between challenges and skills. The challenge level is “throw the game disc like a frisbee” tough…
- Action and awareness are merged. I was so concentrated into figuring out why I was dying so much, that my neighbor managed to sneak up behind me and scare the living crap out of me, so I was pretty into it trying not to be immeasurably frustrated…
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness. See above
- There is no worry of failure. Failure means you have to load all the way back to the last save point… I found myself playing the same 15 minutes of the game over, and over, and over again.
- Self-consciousness disappears. I couldn’t help but think how awkward my character looked attacking enemies, so this did not really happen.
- The sense of time becomes distorted. In my almost 2 hours playing this game, I felt as though I had been playing for well over 5 hours… It was draining!
- The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ – meaning it is an end in itself. Returning this game to Redbox was more rewarding than the actual gameplay.
Now why didn’t I reach flow? This game had just too steep of a learning curve! Something that difficult to master is just not fun!
Frustrated, I decided to play a game that might not be as frustrating, and something that I had meant to pick up quite awhile ago: Crysis. Crysis plays out like your typical “super soldier vs. aliens shooter”, with a twist, (SPOILER) you don’t actually fight the aliens until a while in! The first few hours pit you and your small squad of super soldiers against the Korean army on a (beautiful) island, investigating what happened to innocent civilians that radioed out a distress signal. How did this game stack up in the “flow”?
- There are clear goals every step of the way. Each step of the way, you have a clear goal (and side goals for more weapons, abilities, etc). You get to complete these anyway you see fit (sneaking in, storming in guns-a-blazing.. you name it). You always have control of how you get to complete the goals.
- There is immediate feedback to your actions. This is another challenging game. However, if one way to complete a goal doesn’t work, you reload to right where you stood before starting the goal. Not frustrating at all.
- There is a balance between challenges and skills. I died quite a bit, but that was when I tried the “guns-a-blazing” strategy. Sneaking through the jungle shrubbery worked much better, especially as I figured out how to add different attachments to my weapon on the fly.
- Action and awareness are merged. I found myself leaning forward quite a bit while playing, just trying to get a better view of enemies in the distance, and figure the best way to address the situation at hand.
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness. Well, when I finally put my controller down, I had 3 missed text messages and a missed call on my phone. I was in the zone.
- There is no worry of failure. I wasn’t afraid to try to tactics. Since the save points were often and close together, there was no massive amount of re-tracing my steps if I managed to get my character killed.
- Self-consciousness disappears. I was giggling like a maniac at a few points, and made some of my gamer friends watch the ridiculous feats my character was pulling off. definitely no self-consciousness.
- The sense of time becomes distorted. I ended up playing this over the course of 5 hours, and didn’t manage to get too far, but it seemed like I never quite had enough time to play! I wanted more.
- The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ – meaning it is an end in itself. This is how I plan on spending my free time this week. I need to see how this game will end up!
To quote the song playing as I write this: “I Just Can’t Get Enough”! I had achieved flow while playing Crysis. I was, and am sucked in to finding out the story, and exploring the breathtaking island in this game!
Finally, how does this all deal with education?
Instruction is meaningless without flow. If students are not sucked into instruction like they can be sucked into these video games, then what’s the point? We need to analyze our instructional techniques and make sure they fit into most of the 9 principles of flow, otherwise, we are not providing the right distraction for our students. We are just doing the “same old song and dance”, and nobody wants to play that game!