flOw delivers the wondrous experience of inhabiting a different kind of being, one endowed with surprising motility, behavior, and mind. Chen, one of the game’s two designers, maintains that “a wide range of content is required to satisfy the audience’s various emotional needs.” flOw is a result of his research into an artificial-intelligence system known as Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, which enables a game to automatically adjust to a player’s abilities. If the player catches on quickly, the game becomes difficult, so boredom won’t set in, while the opposite occurs for a slow learner. In flOw the player steers an evolving creature in water through various stages amid special organisms that, when eaten, move the creature to the next level. This seamless endeavor is based, Chen has explained, on Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas of mental flow—that is, “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” The real object of the game is to achieve this state.
Gallery label from Applied Design, March 2, 2013–January 31, 2014.