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What can games do with cognitive flow?

"You sit down, ready to get in a few minutes of gaming. Hours pass... You ask yourself: Where did the time go?" writes Sean Baron, Microsoft Studios user experience researcher, in a new feature on cognitive flow in games.
"You sit down, ready to get in a few minutes of gaming. Hours pass... You ask yourself: Where did the time go?" writes Sean Baron, Microsoft Studios user experience researcher, in a new feature on cognitive flow in games. "In the 1970s a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi experimentally evaluated Flow. He found that a person's skill and the difficulty of a task interact to result in different cognitive and emotional states," writes Baron. "When skill is too low and the task too hard, people become anxious. Alternatively, if the task is too easy and skill too high, people become bored. However, when skill and difficulty are roughly proportional, people enter Flow states." In the flow state, people experience these phenomena, Baron writes: 1. Extreme focus on a task. 2. A sense of active control. 3. Merging of action and awareness. 4. Loss of self-awareness. 5. Distortion of the experience of time. 6. The experience of the task being the only necessary justification for continuing it. The full feature, in which Baron tackles concepts that will help keep gamers in a continuous Flow state -- as per Csikszentmihalyi's own research -- is live now on Gamasutra.

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