A study published in Computers and Human Behaviour has found that when a game is going well, you’re more focused on the steps it takes to compete the game and less affected by any in-game violence you encounter. Researchers had 122 undergraduates play a game custom-built for the study. The game had players navigate a medieval dungeon, kill eight hostile guards, kill a final boss, and obtain a quest item.
They then filled out a set of questionnaires, reporting how difficult they found the game, how good they were at games in general, how violent and gory they found the game they’d just completed, and their level of hostility. Another questionnaire determined whether they focused on the steps necessary to achieve a goal, or the goal itself. For example, they could describe “locking a door” as “putting a key in the lock” or “securing the house”. They then completed a psychological test that determined how aggressive they felt. Finally, they had to say to what extent they achieved a “flow state” while playing.
What’s a flow state? It’s when you’re in the zone. You’re fully immersed in the process of what you’re doing. You’re hit the perfect balance between skill and challenge, and it’s full speed ahead.
Researchers found two interesting things: players with the highest skill thought more in terms or steps and goals than others, and they didn’t have much hostility or aggression after playing the game. According to researchers, “Achieving flow during game play may make a game’s narrative more psychologically central.”
This makes sense if you’ve ever played an online game. The guy who screams into the microphone and then rage quits tends not to be very good and the game and inspires some worry amongst his guild members. On the other hand, the guy humming along, “in the zone”, as it were, isn’t inspiring any calls to 911. Food for thought.