Is Flow A Game?

Flow is an interesting game to play and really strange. It is a weird science experiment of a game that adapts to the player. It’s creator, Jenova Chen, actually created Flow for his master’s thesis which was a concept of dynamic difficulty adjustment. It’s a form where the game adjusts itself to the player’s reactions which is quite different from normal games. Normal games usually expect the player to continuously grow and adapt but Flow is different. I played the free flash version of flow on my web browser which is quite different in aesthetics to the shiny and polished console versions.

I was very confused playing this game as I had no clue in what I was doing. Nothing was explained when I was thrown in at the start but as per usual, this is the part where you start pressing and clicking everything to get a response. I eventually got an idea of what to do and how to navigate and my adventure started. It was sort of like snake, where you eat to get bigger and try to stay alive. Other creatures showed up to rival my slowly evolving germ but I never felt joy playing this game. I don’t really understand why but I just couldn’t find anything entertaining about this game. The music was also a loud blaring godlike music as if you were ascending into the heavens of some sort. After a while I also discovered that I cannot even die or lose in this game! Was it even a game at this point? I couldn’t find an end goal and I couldn’t find a way to even lose! Jesper Juul’s Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, gives good guidelines of sort to what a game is. Flow, unsurprisingly doesn’t fit most of his categories of what a game should be. Juul believes that “the rules of the game must provide different possible outcomes” (p. 38) but in Flow there really is no outcome! There’s only further progress but no real purpose. This game never gave me a sense of accomplishing anything. Yes, I could see that I was making some sort of progress but it was just the same as where I had originally been. Flow never gave me any feeling other than boredom and a sense of emptiness. I eventually saw the other versions of it in play and they play similarly but with polished looks. The console versions do have some sorts of ending though, it’s actually just credits and then the game continues as normal but resets your creature to it’s smallest state. Juul believes that an “emotional attachment of the player to the outcome is a psychological feature of the game activity” (p. 40) but that never really happens in Flow. I don’t feel any attachment to this evolving blob worm. I also never feel any emotional attachment to the game that keeps me entertained or gives me a reason to come back. Flow is a game but it isn’t as well. This leaves it in a horrible limbo state where it really doesn’t know what it is. It’s best fit would be an Open-ended simulations game but does it really fit into that? Jenova Chen found it as an experiment. Maybe it’s best to leave it as just that.

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8 thoughts on “Is Flow A Game?

  1. Wow! I felt that type of emptiness wit Kim Kardashian Hollywood…. I guess that it totally depends on the player and the game being played.

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  2. I had no idea that the game was for the developer’s thesis. That’s really cool. I didn’t play Flow, but I find it interesting that, according to Juul, it is not a game. When I looked it up I read that many people downloaded the game to play. I wonder why it seems to be such a popular game?

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  3. I actually feel differently, towards this game and mainly it’s aesthetics. In my opinion this game is supposed to be a relaxation game. When I played it, it felt like a form of meditation that helped clear my mind. Ultimately, I appreciated the game not having an end to it, or a game over because it kept the relaxation flow going. This isn’t meant to be a game that causes anxiety and excitement because it’s challenging but rather, this game fulfills the aspect of a game being “an escape from reality”. Lastly, as previously mentioned by others it depends on the player, I suggest giving this game another try when you’re overwhelmed with work or life and appreciate it for it’s relaxing flow.

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    • Which version did you play though? I discovered that this game is quite different on console than on Web browser. I will agree on the game being an escape from reality but it has to be for someone that has difficulty clearing their minds and must be occupied. This game can easily dull your senses and shackle you to long play time. That’s my problem though. Nothing is getting accomplished, which can be said for any video game really but its worse when nothing is even getting accomplished in the game. If you can find relaxation playing it though, then it has a purpose for you. Now the game has meaning and made you achieve something. It really is a game for some and not all.

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  4. I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one who was totally unengaged by this title. I felt no emotional attachment to the outcome, and that was one of the main reasons why I simply didn’t care. What platform were you playing this on? That seems to be a huge factor in the depth of gameplay that this title provides.

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    • I was playing the PC web browser version which is really dull compared to the Console version. I believe it didn’t engage me because I felt no purpose during the game. The dull blank environment on the web browser version made that worse.

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  5. Be careful to really say what you mean when you are writing. For example, when you discuss Flow, Juul’s rules, and outcomes, you are incredibly vague. You write “Yes, I could see that I was making some sort of progress but it was just the same as where I had originally been.” What progress did you make? What was the same? What are you talking about? Similarly, while you note that other versions had more, you never explain what those versions are or what more they have. This sort of detail is what the reader needs to be able to follow along. Remember, the reader has not necessarily played the same game, so you need to do the extra work to show them what you’re talking about.

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