Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What About Thesis Defenses and Flow?

So I am happy to announce and revel in the completion of my Master's thesis defense, where my 144-page tome was 'accepted as submitted', which is as good as it gets. I had a very lively and dare I say fun Q&A session with my committee which included Dr. Leslie Shade, Dr. Marty Allor, and Dr. Kim Sawchuk.

Already moving on... my next beautiful, virgin research area will be the intriguing question of flow in video games. From what I have seen, most people are referring to the work of the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to Wikipedia, Csikszentmihalyi uses flow to describe "the feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity, with a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment". So flow would describe the engagement experienced in sports, playing an instrument, and the play of video games.

This leads to preliminary research in psychological research on affect, cognition, motivation, and flow. A tad dull, but I know it will be worth it for when I can move into computer and science and technology studies to get in deeper into this topic.

Jenova Chen's MFA research popped up, and I must say that game is very pretty but not altogether addictive. Her thesis looks fairly interesting though, as I think flow is an intriguing way to get at game design. I'll keep you posted!

Nice to be back...


Photendoist said...

I had a chance to play flOw during a particularly slow day at work. It was kinda cool at first, but the novelty died off quickly. A big idea of it is that the difficulty level is never too little or too much, as you can control what stage of difficulty you are playing at by either traveling deeper or floating closer to the surface in and of the water. In practice, it works, but the system itself does not make for the most enjoyable of experiences. If the difficulty level is never too hard, it ceases to present a compelling reason for the player to get better. The "AI" is nothing to scream about; seems relatively non-existent to me actually.

His "thesis" is also pretty damn short, considering how revolutionary the thoughts presented are said to be. His description of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (which he, thankfully, says can also be called DDA. Gee, SPANKS!) is woefully short, considering that it seems to be the big thing he says is needed to have proper "flow" in games. If Chen added his biography page to his thesis, it would increase in size by about 10%. That's nutty butty.

The idea of boredom being purposefully implemented into a game's design seems a little backwards, so I can agree with him there, but anxiety being a bad thing? If you can't get excited about what you're doing, get your heart rate up, feel some danger, what's to keep you coming back? Imagine how boring Tetris would be if the falling blocks forever fell at the same speed that a player could play comfortably, in their flow, if you will. It's a perfect example of, recently, why Konductra for the DS utterly fails as a puzzle game; there's no inherent danger, and the player is pretty much left to decide at just what pace he/she can play the puzzle game. It's an incredibly drab experience overall. A big problem with relying on a DDA (oooo, very useful!) could come into playi f a player has to reach a certain level before objectives can be accomplished; they could forever be stuck in gamer limbo. Forever of course, wouldn't be long; most people would just sell the game on craigslist if they could (Chen would likely get around this by offering the game only as a digital download, with no hard copy to sell. Trickster!)

Still, Chen got snatched up by Will Wright's venerable Maxis studio, so he must've done something right. Then again, I find the Sims games pretty effin' dull, so maybe I'm just in the minority here. Still, I'm really looking forward to Spore, if it ever sees the light of day. It's had so much press that I actually believe I can understand more than 3 consecutive words Will Wright says during one of his speeches regarding the new content creation engine used in Spore.

Speaking only of the game used to represent the culmination of his research, I can't see how anyone could truly enjoy being in their ideal "flow" for more than a few play sessions at most.

And lastly, with the game as an example, the concept of DDA seems pretty "bleh", when a game like flOw requires the player to set their own difficulty level. If the microbe in the game spontaneously swam up and down depending on the player's perceived skill level, that would be moderately interesting.

Xinghan "Jenova" Chen, btw, is a "he".

Al said...

Sorry about the gender confusion, but Jenova? Come on...

I would tend to agree with your comments on DDA. For me, what motivates, compells, and attracts dedicated gameplay is the root of the question, and I would think (without research but from personal experience) that mastery and the challenges offered by increasing difficulty are a strong attraction for gamers. On the other hand, I am a video game player with an extremely long learning curve, and I can be discouraged by difficulty levels that increase too quickly.

Your comments about the Sims, which I of course adore, proves that perhaps, like everything else, there is not one answer to what makes games flow but many, depending on the type of player.

And its these questions that make research great fun! Thanks for energizing me even further.

Hardy said...

Congrats, Alison~!!! (^-^ )

Would say more but in a hurry and must reread your entry (and possibly your thesis) and all related before I can really say anyhting else. (~.^ )