Recently, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of inducing ‘flow-state’ – a concept I’ve largely seen referred to in relation to video-games like No Man’s Sky, where a vast open-world environment and in-game processes work together to produce a kind of tactile player-game feedback system in which the systems of pressing buttons and creating feedback on screen eventually becomes so subliminal the brain in essence ‘switches’ off and the player begins to operate on auto-pilot, freeing up the higher brain functions to multi-task onto something else, whilst still being subject to the inherent feedback loop pleasures of the game itself. Or at least, that’s my experience of it, at any rate.
Think of walking to the tube while playing your favourite music on headphones. You’ve walked this same route every day of your life – so much so that you could do it blindfolded. Your body so in sync and so in time to the rhythms of both itself and the world that if you play the same album every morning, you can intuitively link up a particular chorus of a song x No. of songs into the album and your feet reaching a particular point of the pavement at a particular time. This, too, is flow-state. The feeling of reaching a place without realising how you reached it. Your mind has ‘moved on’ to a higher state – sublimating the rudimentary here and now away because it has become so routine it can be performed with almost 0% actual brain process.
Within flow-state, I’ve come to believe you can experience a very particular kind of meditative ‘pure’ happiness. A kind of ‘in the moment’ pure-pleasure which, whilst having little relation on wider life, has an inherent sense of ‘freeing’ which is almost fantastically cathartic and liberating in its capacity to offer relaxation.
And looking back at events of activities that have best triggered aspects of this flow-state, I’ve found the video-game Dynasty Warriors (alongside perhaps the Assassin’s Creed games) to be one of the best in providing this very particular sensation.
In essence, the game is set up on the easiest difficulty level and the audio muted, and you play through the almost mind-numbingly simple missions for an hour or two at any one time, whilst simultaneously listening to a podcast. This aspect of multi-tasking is vital, because to simply ‘play’ the game itself would put too much undue focus on the simplicity of the action of playing itself – it would become dull and utterly tedious.
But instead, the act of playing becomes largely secondary, a kind of soft, white-noise of tactile pleasure that is felt more through the fingertips and body than the mind. Meanwhile, the mind is occupied by the podcast – with spoken word as opposed to music providing a particular thrill of comprehension distinct from the activity of the game – your mind must alertly ‘follow’ the flow of conversation or narration, instead of perhaps ‘tuning out’ while music plays.
Particularly with headphones on, there is an immense sense of ‘enveloping’ when going through this procedure, with both mind and body occupied with respective – differentiated – tasks. Your thumbs intuitively know what to press – flipping between SQUARE and X with slipstreamed ease. And yet, the hours of ‘progression’ in game are matched with a ‘mental’ progression of learning about whatever you’re listening to – whether that by an audio drama or factual documentary.
There’s something very particular about the dumb viscerality of Dynasty Warriors – the mowing down of thousands of anonymous men by one, overpowered super-soldier. The concept is utterly ridiculous, and yet, in this – in its larger than life approximation of mass combat – it somehow allows the mind to process the game in a way quite distinct from say – the sharp focus of a strategy game. In Dynasty Warriors or Assassin’s Creed, it is almost as if you are no longer moving your character within the game world, but rather systematically mapping from Point A to Point B – ticking off and sweeping clean the game world and its objectives as you go – slowly reducing a crowded mini-map of objectives into an orderly, tidied completedness.