Our attraction to games and the enjoyment they produce is a concept highlighted in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. According to Mihaly, human beings achieve a state of optimal experience when our skills are continually in balance with the challenges we face.

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This means that as we progress in any activity, we should be challenged just beyond the level of our abilities. This way, we always have to improve ever so slightly to succeed. With each small improvement, we reach ever higher for the next level.

Flow or “being in the zone” helps induce a state of mind classified by enjoyment, loss of time perception, and suspension of self. We’ve all experienced this at some point; perhaps it was during an important presentation at work, golfing on a new course, or while playing an intense game of backgammon. We find ourselves so engaged, so in the experience, that we lose track of everything around us. Afterward, we feel an intense sense of exhilaration and accomplishment – a sense of personal fulfillment.

Flow has improved tremendously in modern video games. Games are becoming much more immersive, engaging and intelligent at recognizing achievement and influencing our behavior. Farmville is a great example of this where intrinsic gaming elements like scheduling and restraint become emotional triggers for our own vanity.

Designing optimal experiences

Great interaction design creates the potential for optimal experiences. I just hope the next generation of innovation enables thoughtful interaction; people, context of use, and systemic solutions that are designed to create real value and enrich our lives.