Video games provide a genuine happiness that we find very few other ways

This is a guest post from Greg Toppo, author of the book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter. He is USA Today’s national education reporter.

Video games engage us more effectively and more productively than almost any other activity we have come up with. This is why video games make us genuinely happy.

The first question that always comes up when we talk about this research is What kind of game?

Players get different benefits from different games. World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG (it’s often shortened simply to MMO), offers a level of immersion, an epic sense of accomplishment, and a sense of fellowship with other players that a simple iPhone game like Candy Crush can’t match.

But even simple games are thoughtfully and cleverly designed, sucking players into what sociologist Natasha Dow Schüll calls the “machine zone,” a mental state where nothing else matters but a player’s ability to keep playing. Schüll has spent years studying Las Vegas slot machine players. She found that the most obsessive players don’t actually play to win. They’re “time-on-device” players who “play to win to play.” Sound like any Candy Crush devotees you know?

Actually, video game advocates would take exception to the slot machine comparison, and with good reason. Slots don’t require much in the way of ability, and they certainly don’t reward failure in the same open-hearted way that a video game does.

In fact, video games stand apart, not just from slot machines but from nearly every endeavor in our lives, in this way: we’re disappointed if mastering one is too easy. Imagine being disappointed to find that operating a snowmobile, filing your taxes, or mastering calculus was easier than you’d thought.

As for the difference between World of Warcraft and Candy Crush, players get the problem-solving benefits with either one, as well as a generous dose of something game theorists call “flow” or “optimal experience.” First identified in the 1980s by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-CENT-mee-hi”), it’s a mental state in which a person’s abilities match the task at hand so perfectly that the work becomes invisible.

Situated midway between boredom and anxiety (skills without challenge equal boredom, while challenge without skills equals anxiety), flow emerged from Csikszentmihalyi’s work studying, among others, painters who became so consumed with their work that they ignored the need for food, drink, or sleep. “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” he wrote. “Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” It’s also, he found, a key element to happiness.

Although most Americans enjoy a fair measure of free time and ample access to leisure activities, Csikszentmihalyi found, they don’t often experience flow. Watching television, which we do for about thirty-four hours a week, rarely leads to flow. Csikszentmihalyi found that people actually achieve the flow state — “deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction” — about four times as often on the job as when they are watching television.

Video games, from the simplest to the most complex are, in a way, perfect flow machines.

40 replies
  1. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Many video games, including console games, but especially MMO’s, recreate a hunter-gatherer social system–with guilds which operate like mobile villages that stay close to the dunbar-number-sized groups we evolved to function as a part of.

    In a wide variety of other ways as well, games are tuned to the ways our brain is designed to operate, and the ways we lived for 98% of our existence: as hunter-gatherers.

    Agricultural life is something humans can learn to tolerate, as is life in an industrial or information society, but none of these comes naturally. Games capitalize on that to provide what we cannot even articulate as a need, yet when you experience it, you feel it is something you have been missing.

    The best video games are a fusion of all known art forms: literature, drama, music, art, architecture; with technology. This is then packaged as hundreds (or in the case of MMO’s thousands) of hours of entertainment, all in an interactive and participatory format that is, as you describe, uniquely engaging and rewarding.

  2. Em
    Em says:

    Is there research on the male/female breakdown of video game players? It seems to be more male but maybe that is a false impression. If video games provide such a good opportunity for achieving flow and happiness I wonder why they would be used more by one gender.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the research that shows girls are collaborative and boys are competitive would apply here. It affects women at work and at home so it seems like it would affect women in gaming as well.

      I remember research from Brenda Laurel in the 90s that showed that girls wanted to make things together rather than compete.


      • galeforcewind
        galeforcewind says:

        As a female gamer (though I know many others that this isn’t true for) I do gravitate towards games that are cooperative or include world-building and civic-mindedness – even marriage and kids. Little Big Planet, Chariot, Skyrim, Fable and even Minecraft are good examples of games where you have to work with others to complete higher acheivments, or work for the city to earn the right to buy a house and upkeep it, or where you can choose a spouse and have or adopt children and send them money from your adventuring.

  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    There was a time when I was playing Scramble a lot. I found that the tight time limit and the challenge of finding as many words as possible sharpened my thinking. I had been paying attention to too many detours of thought in daily life and it was wasting time. The game allowed for no other thoughts than my focus, and it really helped me in that time in general. It transferred to help me outside the game in a way that was like ‘getting me over’. The help continued once I stopped playing, and I can still apply the habits from the game any time. Now having a baby kind of achieves the same thing — there is no slack. Decisions and thoughts are very streamlined in time. It’s good.

  4. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I used to play games. Since I was in middle school, when the games were still on DOS system :) I loved Role-Playing-Games, like WoW, and simulation games, like Civilization.

    But since I discovered art, and have taken drawing and painting as my profession, or rather, a life’s mission, I rarely play anymore. Only times I play would be playing with my 5-year-old, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and occasionally the running and racing games that I’m pretty bad at :)

  5. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I enjoy video games, as do others in my family. They’re fun.

    I can’t help but feel sorry for kids whose greatest happiness, or only experience of flow state, comes from playing video games.

    • marta
      marta says:


      When my kids play tag and variations of it, pick up soccer, get lost in the park or at the beach, bodyboard or bodysurf, they are in a state of flow. Their whole minds AND bodies are engrossed and they are genuinely happy.

      They also play videogames (basically they play FIFA, a soccer game for the PS) and I don’t see that same whole fullfilment.

      I think it is because of not having your body engaged. If you wnat to mimick hunter gatherer life, at least you have to start engaging your body…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      By definition no one gets to the flow state from a range of things — you have to be very good at what you’re doing and you have to invest lots of time and energy in it. Flow comes, in part, from a level of expertise.

      So it almost seems arrogant to me to start judging people on what is a good way to get flow and what isn’t. It’s such a high achievement, and so few people get it — especially in adult life — that any way someone can get it seems like a nice way to get it.


      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Now, now, one can’t just invent one’s own definitions for words. Cziksentmihalyi pretty much invented the term, and he said people can get to the flow state from a range of things. Some people more than others, it’s true (not all of us can have autoetelic personalities), but if the only thing that lets you enter flow state is a mass-produced sedentary entertainment like video games or slot machines, then you have less flow than others, certainly less than I or even my kids have.

        My son is out on the patio right now in his third straight hour of violin practice, totally unaware of the time. Yeah, he’s in flow. As he was in flow on Sunday skateboarding with his friends.

        I’ve entered flow state in many ways: chess, cycling, translation, frisbee, programming, skiing, gaming, writing…

        I think part of my job as a parent is helping my kids find multiple avenues to flow, and better ones. Making sure they don’t just sit in front of a computer all day is part of that help.

        • Mark Kenski
          Mark Kenski says:

          Well said, Commenter. Penelope is right that flow is infrequent in modern life for most people. But that does not mean it is an “advanced thing.” It is the most natural thing in the world, as Amy A pointed out. It’s just that we have lost touch with much that is natural for us.

          At the end of your comment though, it is a straw man you attack. No one is arguing that anyone should have games a *sole* source of flow. Only that they are *a* source and as such can have value for those not prone to go off the deep end and forsake the rest of life.

          It is not a drug, it is one of the wholesome and valuable experiences our brains seek out–that is the reason drugs exist: to mimic it, to trick the brain chemistry into thinking we are in flow.

          Flow can be cultivated, because flow is the direct result of a match between skill and task. When you learn how that match feels, you can seek it in anything you do, and eventually find it, and keep finding it, as you progress toward mastery in a state of joy. That is what learning and doing and loving every moment of it is about.

          I’ll just add that Csikszentmihalyi wrote about peak performers in a sort of “perfect flow” of total mastery, and that is mainly what is recalled by those that bring up the term. But there is no one whose task is so lowly or simple that it cannot produce this same human value. Any more than anyone is too low to enjoy the fruits of love.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Mark, I appreciate your argument but question the universal transferability – even the universal goodness – of flow.

            Let’s look again at the slots player. The reason people play slot machines is that they’re designed to induce a flow state. So are video games. In both, the skill required, if any, adapts directly to the skill displayed; any action is guaranteed to keep the images spinning and the sounds coming. Sure, kids get better at games, but the best games responsively adapt to the skill displayed. The match is fake, part of the design from the first play.

            The most popular, simple, and addictive video games (minecraft, angry birds, tetris) employ unskilled, repetitive actions, just like slot machines. People can build great things in minecraft, true, but mostly kids just want to play pvp servers over and over again.

            Do slots addicts transfer their flow state to other endeavors? Do they learn to seek it in everything they do? If they did, they wouldn’t still be there, they wouldn’t come back, they wouldn’t sit until every last quarter is gone. They’re chasing a “genuine happiness that they find very few other ways,” and I suspect that their ability to find happiness outside the technologically induced machine state is impaired, not strengthened.

            Likewise with video games; if the only way a person gets flow state is sitting in front of a console consuming a cleverly designed entertainment program with repetitive, flashing images, requiring a modicum of responsive movement, I question whether that experience will make that person able to transfer the flow state experience to something else less designed and passive.

            I feel bad that “flow is infrequent in modern life for most people.” But that’s “most people’s” problem, not ours. My kids aren’t most people, and I am not trying to make them become most people.

  6. Carlee
    Carlee says:

    I am wondering what the point of articles like this are? I find them interesting, but I find

    Personally, I know I have a problem with video games. I know that if I let myself play one a little bit I will play it constantly. I know if I keep the little games on my phone I will just play them. All the time. I know that I will let my life disintegrate, and be totally happy and content while it happens.

    What you describe up above does not make me feel warm fuzzies for video games, it make them sound even more like a drug than I have personally experienced them to be.

    What good does finding flow in video games do for real life? (If you are not a pro gamer of course.) I’m projecting my personal issues here (That finding such accessible flow in video games demotes wishing to participate in other areas of life.) but the adults I know who play heavily are not awesome and typically feel very unhappy about the state of their lives outside the game. Moving from an anecdotal scale to a grand one, what are your thoughts on this?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is exactly why I post so much about video games. Because people have preconceived notions of video games that are not based in research. I have those notions as well.

      The issue is that if you let boys do whatever they want — which is what unschooling is — then boys will play a lot of video games. So much of unschooling is the parents unschooling themselves. We need to get rid of our own preconcevied notions of what is “good” and what is “bad” when it comes to childhood.

      Video games are good. There is tons of data to show video games are good. They help kids develop into productive, self-sufficient adults. It’s hard to see that as a parent — I have a hard time myself. So I publish everything I find on the topic to give myself the courage to keep letting my sons choose what they want to spend their time doing.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        It can be difficult for people with a traditional mindset to embrace an unschooling philosophy.

        I, for one, appreciate your posts and guest posts on video games, and I’m kind of put off by the arrogance of those with more traditional views of life and parenting.

      • Moms on the Sidelines
        Moms on the Sidelines says:

        Would you go so far as to suggest parents introduce their kids to video games if they haven’t initiated it?

        With my now 2 yo, I followed American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation and avoided screen time for his first two years. A few months ago, they changed the recommendation and said some screen time can be beneficial. WTH. 2 years of getting NOTHING done all for nothing.

        I don’t want to make the same mistake with video games.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      Hi Carlee,
      I really appreciated your comment. I too have had bouts of being ‘addicted’ to games on my phone, and it does not feel healthy! When my husband sees me doing it he says, “Are you doing that unhealthy thing again?” And he used to be a big gamer, so the game itself has nothing to do with why he tells me I being unhealthy, he knows how the games affect me, his wife, and he is not projecting any traditional attitudes about games on me when he is saying that! He (thank god!) understands his wife.

      And for games I think a lot of it is personal, and you cannot say video games are good, or video games are bad, they just are, and the people who play them turn them into good or bad things in their lives depending on who they are.

  7. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    “[Flow is] a mental state in which a person’s abilities match the task at hand so perfectly that the work becomes invisible.”

    Check out this article which describes how one indigenous South American tribe dealt with “work”– which they didn’t even have a word for, by the way:

    “…the Indians’ attitude towards ”
    ‘work,’ or rather their experience of all activity as play; they made no distinction between work and play.”

    The description in that article is how *I* would define “flow.”

    As a parent, I would do some deep self-examination if my child’s greatest source of happiness was playing video games. After crying on a solo walk for a little bit.

    • marta
      marta says:

      I guess you’re right: only children and people living in nature as (mostly) hunter gatherers can get that easily on flow precisely because they do not make a distinction between work and leisure, intelectual or physical activities. All is play, with your mind and body set on task, over and over again.

      Technology, on the other hand, seems to hinder that kind of total, wholesome, hollistic immersion. To start with, it is something that is offered to you, not something you build up on your own terms. Also, usually it just engages a part of your being (reflexes, fingers, visual acuracy)…

      I know a lot of teenagers who get to that state of flow with videogames, yes. They’ve mastered League of Legends, World of Warcraft, what-have-you. On the other hand, they can’t surf a wave, ride the subway or look you in the eye. They can grow into the kind of adults I don’t want my kids to marry with.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I’ve given so much up in terms of how I thought parenting and adult life with kids would be. Who they marry and what I think of them or what I think they should do about it is another thing that’s out the window. I’m raising them to make their own choices and be responsible for them. They’ll like who they like, and hopefully it doesn’t come from a negative place.

      • Amy A
        Amy A says:

        Marta, agree with everything you’ve said so far in your comments here.

        I believe the kind of flow described in the article I posted (really, from the book _The Continuum Concept) is attainable in modern life.

        The two examples of flow in the article I posted are not unlike the mundane and, what I call in a no-flow state-of-mind, the pain-in-the-ass, details I deal with in every-day life–despite my pretty successful efforts in eliminating what I don’t enjoy as much as possible (ex. energy-draining relationships, busy-ness, hoop-jumping and people-pleasing, cooking for hours at a time, owning lots of things).

        Prior to being a parent, I sought the kind of flow Greg Toppo discusses in his article here. Flow in my job. And I usually experinced it. So I happily worked my job as much as possible. However, I would say it was more of an addiction than it was authentic flow. If I am being honest with myself, it was a whole lot easier being obsessed with my job than dealing with the in-between, where the rest of life takes place. Hey, that was totally fine as a person who wasn’t a parent, only myself to take care of.

        If we are talking about the flow I described at my job, sure video games can probably give that (if you don’t account for real life interactions and applying body movement and body awareness, such as what people around you are interpreting your body language and voice tone to be, having to physically hand items to other human beings and making eye contact and responding to the subtlest of human cues, etc).

        But once I became a parent, who chose to let go of the job, flow HAD to take on a whole different meaning.

        Now flow for me is being at peace no matter where I am, doing all the mundane as if it is no different than the high of a paid job, allowing life to unfold and riding the surprises, and being curious: about myself, my, kids, my life.

        Flow to me isn’t about doing one particular activity. It is about finding internal flow in it all, in life. It is the flow I want for my kids and myself.

        Spontaneous play also fits into the flow I describe, and what you described in surfing and pick-up soccer.

  8. redrock
    redrock says:

    Flow is such an interesting topic. I don’t think I have ever truly “chased” flow as in ” I have to achieve flow in activity xyz” or in “why can I not achieve flow with activity abc?”. But I experience it often, most frequently in my profession. Indeed being immersed in data analysis, reading scientific publications, doing some math… ah, perfect ( I am known for being surprised that a lecture with particularly exciting student question is actually over…although students might not experience the same thrill). I also experience flow when reading a great book, doing origami or riding my bike… but never ever when playing a video game.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      My oldest daughter achieves flow state on a regular basis with her art. When she does, there isn’t anything I can do to pull her away from what she is working on, it has lasted an entire month at a time which I thought was not possible. I’m not sure I have ever achieved flow state. I have pondered the mysteries of the universe, read entire series of books in a few days, and obsessively watched, critiqued, wrote papers on movies all on my own…but I don’t consider that flow.

    • Mark Kenski
      Mark Kenski says:

      Perhaps, but what we call “reading” may be anywhere on a spectrum from 1% engagement to 100%. It’s not very often that I have experienced unmistakable flow when reading a book, but it has happened.

      I agree, though, that flow seems more likely and is more distinctive when it is in more active experiences.

  9. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    Penelope, why do you doubt your instincts? If you instinctively feel that playing video games all day long is not the best for your kids, why look for research to refute your instincts? Yes, we all have assumptions that can/should be challenged, but you also have instincts as a parent. Another thought to consider: you can have your own definition of unschooling which may involve challenging your kids beyond their own inclinations at least somewhat. Jumping in to inspire, challenge or support them is not usurping the authority you have given them. As a homeschooler who teaches in the homeschool community, I see how young people benefit from challenges set before them that they cannot set for themselves.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      I expressed something similar in my comments to another of her video game posts: trust your instincts and if something feels good in parenting, you don’t need to find strangers to give their approval of it. If it doesn’t feel good, examine why it doesn’t and why you fear guiding your own child.

  10. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Commenter, thanks for taking the time to so politely elaborate your thinking. I agree with almost everything you’ve said. Believe it or not, what follows is keeping this short. And this had to be posted as a root comment because this forum only lets you reply so many levels deep.

    We agree on so much. For example:

    Flow is not universally transferable. Addictions are an example of non-transferability.

    Flow is not universally good.

    Flow is one reason gambling is addictive, and that is a bad thing. Operant conditioning plays a part too.

    Flow is the reason lots of “designed experiences” are addictive–that is what they are designed to do.

    Some video games are a complete waste of time or worse. Maybe the vast majority.

    But to get all nuanced about these things would be tiresome. So let me stick to where we seem to disagree.

    It’s nothing but a verbal shortcut to say flow is “transferable” at all. What *can* happen is that a person learns that flow is possible, that it is inherently rewarding, that it can be cultivated in any pursuit. Once this is learned it has continued applicability no matter what activity you pursue mastery in. It can be cultivated in pursuits that bring no benefit to the person, or pursuits that do bring benefit. A person is wise to cultivate flow doing things that bring real rewards and produce something of merit in the doing. Hopefully a child has people to influence him or her toward that understanding. But is a person wise to *exclusively* seek flow in things that produce obvious merit, personal growth, etc? Perhaps that is part of the heart of the matter. It seems to be behind what so many of the comments here get at.

    And I would say, no. Mainly: yes. Exclusively: no. If a person has a “balanced diet” of merit production in their life, if they live well and wisely, then there is a place for “purely recreational” activities: ones that mainly are just for the fun of it.

    Is entertainment–which some will inevitably view as a complete waste of time–a good thing or not? And that is something one has to judge for themselves. I just binge-watched two seasons of Spartacus with my son (who’s 20, I don’t recommend it for youngsters) and I felt a little guilty for the two days I took off from my home employment to do that. But I realized that hey, I work 7 days a week almost every week out of the year. A couple days spent laughing and commenting and discussing history and a million other things with my son, in the context of watching the show has a value. For me, it had tremendous value. Sometimes, you need to relax and that is going to mean “wasting” a little time. If you work hard, you have to know when to rest, relax, even goof off; or you will hurt, and eventually destroy, your own productivity.

    Video games are on a spectrum. On one end is things that are so empty of merit and so addictive that they have a detrimental effect on one’s life. Any prudent person will avoid these. As they will have the sense to avoid anything that works to their detriment. Then there are games that are nothing but simple-minded harmless diversions. These one should indulge with caution. On the other end of the spectrum, though, are games that are like “The Lord of The Rings”-on-steroids: vast, epic, literary experiences that are deeply enriching. At least as enriching as great literature.

    At the high end, the spectrum splits and has another “end”: MMORPGs. These can certainly be abused, and famously are sometimes, but they have a social dimension that can absolutely be educational and enlightening. For a kid to raid (do a task that takes 50+ people 4+ hours to complete in perfect coordination) in Everquest for example, he has to learn to follow detailed instructions (or better yet, give them as a part of leadership), have mastery of a set of skills, be patient, know when to take initiative, know how to get along with and work with many widely varied others…so many skills that are extremely transferable to the rest of life. Frankly I know of no opportunity that is so widely available to develop so many social skills to such sharpness other than MMO’s.

    Because there is a spectrum, you can’t just say “video games are wonderful, period.” No, you can say though, “In my experience, the video games my son plays are wonderful in the overall effect on his life, right now, and we’ll keep an eye on that as time goes by.”

    Reading the wrong literature, without sufficient antidote, can absolutely ruin a human mind. But it is also true that reading the right literature is one of the best ways to elevate the mind and heart. Games are the same way.

    No one is saying games *only* elevate. Just that they can. Why bother saying that? Because the prevailing mainstream wisdom is that video games are a complete waste of time for kids, or worse, a bad influence in general. If it were not so, schools would use games. Pretty sure they don’t. This same attitude is prevalent with homeschoolers, and even unschoolers. Penelope used to have this same attitude. She changed her mind over time based on the empirical data she gathered in her own family. As it should be. Each family must judge what’s right for them the best they can.

    And I am not saying flow only elevates. In one’s life, it has to be combined with virtues. Like Prudence. Temperance. Challenging work toward purpose. Freedom. Lots of other old-fashined things.

    My son was raised to understand the value of these virtues. He played all the games he ever felt like playing. But he did so in the course of becoming a wise and responsible adult, and that involved a lot of other things besides playing games. So games offer little threat to him, nor does bad literature, nor gambling nor drugs nor any other short-circuit to fake eudaimonia.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Mark, thanks for the considered response. I have little to add to it, besides that one can also say, “In my experience, the video games my son plays are _not_ wonderful in the overall effect on his life, right now, and I will intervene to redirect him.”

      I don’t believe that video games are all bad (though I agree with you that the majority of them are terrible), nor do I feel that all entertainment is bad. I still hope to defeat the Lava Ruins and get Raguna married off, and once I update this computer I will enjoy playing StarCraft II against my son. I enjoy inching through class SF series with my wife and kids. But for us what moderation means is a token timer on the gaming computers.

      The result of my intervention _has_ been wonderful in the overall effect on his life, right now. He no longer obsesses over video games or tries to get out of family activities to play by himself. He doesn’t stay up all night playing minecrack and skyping strangers like my friend’s kid did last week. He’s engaging more fully with his music (he’s out on the patio playing at length to the delight of our neighbors again), and he’s just plain more pleasant to be around all week long.

      I do feel that a video game console is no better a babysitter than a terrible public school teacher. If believing that parents should be present for their children makes me arrogant and old-fashioned, I take up that mantle proudly.

      • Mark Kenski
        Mark Kenski says:

        You’re the best kind of parent a kid can have. And you have my complete support in the coclusions you’ve drawn and decisions you’ve made. I’m happy to hear they have been effective in achieving what we all strive for.

        I forget, at times, that for me and my wife, unschooling was on easy mode: two parents, one healthy child. A luxury most do not have. I wonder sometimes if I have any right to even state my point of view, given it’s likely inapplicability to those I offer it to that play life on ‘normal’ or even ‘nightmare’ difficulty.

        Until my son was 16 or so, he never played a video game without a parent sitting beside him discussing it as it was played. If it was something online, like Halo, that was being played, he had a parent logged in and on his every team, hearing every word, being a part of the process. To this day, we still play a lot of games that way, where it is an excuse to spend time together.

        Some–perhaps most–would call that overbearing. I would call it not using a console as a babysitter.

        I’ve said it here before and I’ll repeat myself: unschooling is not unparenting. It’s a more demanding kind of parenting than customary in our culture–and requires dedicated conscientious parents like you.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Why would someone being present for their children mean they are arrogant?

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          YMKAS, a person who ignores her kids all day, uses an Xbox as a babysitter, and seeks out research to justify her neglect would probably see this description as arrogant. So nobody here, to be sure.

          Mark, that’s some awesome daddage right there. I try to be as engaged as possible for me, but the ratio is usually two kids to one adult rather than the other way around so I can’t match your level. Well done.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Is someone here doing that? I’m so confused. Xbox as a babysitter? How old does one need to be where playing Xbox doesn’t represent a babysitter? I probably am over-thinking as usual, but it seemed like your words were defensive and I couldn’t see why you needed to be defensive.

          • Amy A
            Amy A says:

            Elizabeth: PT said about what Commenter posted earlier, “So it almost seems arrogant to me to start judging people on what is a good way to get flow and what isn’t…” I interpreted that to mean she thinks he was sounding arrogant.

            I myself love what Commenter has to say and how invested and conscious he seems to be at-home parenting. “Arrogance ” doesn’t even come to mind when I read his posts. More like relief that there are parents like him out there.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


          Telling someone you are sorry for them after they have achieved flow state (which is actually really difficult to do) because the way in which they achieved it is different that what you would expect is a little insulting.

          I do not think Commenter is arrogant for the way he is with his family. He is incredibly intelligent and helps get good conversations going here. In fact, I don’t think he is arrogant at all. I think it was an unfortunate phrasing on his part because I knew what he meant, but it didn’t come across that way.

          When I was talking about arrogance, I wasn’t talking about him at all. Or about any comments, but about guest posts.

  11. sarah faulkner
    sarah faulkner says:

    I find this whole topic very interesting. I think it is very creative for the author to link flow to video games because I would not. One of the characteristics stated about flow is that the person is always challenging himself to reach new levels. In my personal life I can greatly relate to this, but I am not sure if this is true in a gamers life.

    When I write for Penelope I enter into a state of flow, but the flow isn’t complete until she approves, because my challenge is to get her attention. However, every time I write I try harder than the last to keep her attention for each sentence. I naturally set this challenge for myself.

    I have gone on video game binges. I can remember in 6th grade being pulled from class. My Mother came to pick me up in the middle of the day. She told the office I had an appointment, but in the truck she said my cousin was getting ready to beat a video game (Little Nemo’s Dream Land) and knew I would want to watch.

    Within the game, there is a desire for the next level to be a challenge and to beat it, but once you are finished with the game, you don’t try to find a game harder than the last. They don’t exist. You can’t keep challenging yourself to a harder game, there is a cap. You can only challenge yourself within the game, and even then, the game actually sets the challenge for you. I don’t think this creates a true state of flow, but I think it creates an artificial one. I think artifical states are what creates addictions and that is why so many people are against video games.

    I think a true state of flow is personal challenges to succeed to the next level with there never being a cap. It is interesting because when you play video games or do drugs, it causes your brain the produce dopamine, which makes you happy and is very addicting. The state of flow produces dopamine from a variety of areas, not just one, which is the difference of addiction. It would be interesting to trace the variety of stimulations creating flow, and their connection with dopamine vs the variety from gaming.

  12. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Thank you! I usually get this “flow” when I read, but I also get it from playing video games and writing something on a deadline. I taught myself to play music on a piano app so I’m getting “flow” from learning how to play more challenging songs.

  13. Jean
    Jean says:

    The problem of video games, is that they are such an accessible source of flow, that you don’t get any motivation to seek another one.
    And when you possibly learned everything video games could teach you, they don’t bring anything to your life anymore, it’s just a waste of instinct like casual sex or refined sugar.

  14. Dustin
    Dustin says:

    I think the tipping point of gaming going from a time suck to a positive use of time (in moderation) was the confluence of the social interaction aspect of gaming and the technology getting to the point where games feel realistic.

    This combination helps the players learn, build confidence, without being isolated, as they were in the past. Now, you can talk with other players from around the world. You can meetup in person, and grow those relationships. It’s similar to a more intense version of lumosity with a social component.

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