Flow

New Vegas skyline

An hour passed and I barely noticed. My mind was in a place where minutes don’t really matter. An hour was a moment that somehow both flew by and took forever.

I watched the sun rise over a desolate wasteland as I made my way through rocky paths that led away from treacherous desert. A red-eyed gecko the size of a child runs at me with claws in the air, but it meets its end at the barrel of my shotgun. I stumble to a forlorn campsite and replenished myself on irradiated water and gecko steak. The creature’s hide gets stuffed into an already heavy backpack to be bartered for a few caps later. I find dead-ends, raiders, caverns, and picking up every bullet and cap I keep scrounging and stumbling towards the marker on the map. By the time the sun sets I can see the lights of New Vegas shining like a glorious beacon. It seems so close, yet impossible to reach by a direct path.

My stomach growls for the tenth time, and I snap back to reality. I save my game, set the controller down, check the clock. A day happened in an hour. I don’t remember drinking the rest of my coffee, but it explains the nature of the stomach noises. I make my way towards the fridge thinking, “Where was I?” The Mojave is immersive, but it was more than that;  I had achieved flow.

I was engaged and entertained but calculating; temporarily a courier with purple hair and painspike armor – not a caffeinated brunette with a controller. My skill with analog sticks and trigger buttons evolved to where I don’t need to concentrate on my hands. I know the game well (Fallout: New Vegas is the example.), and I no longer evaluate the meaning of the amber-colored words and symbols on-screen. Yet I don’t know what resides around each corner, or how every mission will play out. I’m not tired of the game; there is still excitement and anticipation. There are goals in and out of the game. I need certain skills to accomplish everything, intelligence, strength, my social and sneak abilities all affect how I can go about completing quests. I also have a goal of how much to complete in-game before I get antsy about my stomach growling and the dirty dishes in the sink. All of this adds up to a sort of intersection in my brain, Flow. I have to use right and left brain, mentally leave the physical for a moment, and use every ounce of skill and concentration to be entertained while reaching my goals.

I read the book Flow and wrote about it in a (short) essay a couple years ago, and it made an impression. (Posted on the Essays page) I have thought about it at length since, and perhaps I should re-read since I’ve added knitting to the list of Flow-inducing activities. It happens while reading, tasting, painting, playing. Energized focus, emotional learning, and in-the-groove are terms used in the Wikipedia summation of Flow. Simply and personally put, it is ideal to me to accomplish something while stopping to smell the roses at the same time. I may be prone to being over-emotional, but luckily this seems to be the same brain chemistry that has a penchant for Flow. Now I ask myself,”Why just play a sport, a game, a song?” It doesn’t always work but I try to engage and experience joy. Anxiety often tries to barge through, but when I knit, when I game, the joy is accessible.