The Submission Aesthetic

In Categories of Fun and Experience Design, I introduced Marc LeBlanc's list of gameplayer aesthetics:
  1. Sensation - game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy - game as make-believe
  3. Narrative - game as drama
  4. Challenge - game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship - game as social framework
  6. Discovery - game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression - game as self-discovery
  8. Submission - game as mindless pastime
Seven of the eight are straightforward, but the concept of Submission confused me, particularly in light of how it related to Experience Design. Further digging into Marc's work revealed that he alternatively used the terms Submission and Masochism to describe this aesthetic. Final Fantasy indeed!

Sticking with the mindless pastime definition, I found myself still wondering what it meant and how to create it. I thought maybe it was a repetitive activity like Steve McQueen's bouncing and catching a baseball in 'The Great Escape' - something to take your mind off current circumstances (being stuck in The Cooler) but not rising to the level of one of the other kinds of fun; a sort of unflow.

I'm willing to wager that you've experienced both the flow and unflow states. What is the difference between the two? Which Components of Flow are missing in unflow? Which ones are necessary to achieve the unflow state? Are there other components of unflow?

In most workplaces there are people operating in both states. Which ones do you think are more productive? If you are a manager, what can you do - what must you do - to move people from the unflow to the flow state?

I started writing "Categories of Fun..." in hopes of finding the Holy Grail of Experience Design: a recipe for creating effective Transformation experiences. I think that this distinction between the components of flow and flow plays a key role. I'm still the details out for myself, but I'd be interested in hearing what you think about unflow and Submission.

And I'll resume the quest for the Grail soon, but first I must take my afternoon nap on the balcony.


Marc LeBlanc graciously responded to my e-mail query about the definition of Submission as follows:
When I’m talking about submission I’m talking about, in some sense, the “pleasure” of giving yourself over to an external process. “Pleasure” is perhaps an overly strong word here.

Bouncing a ball against the wall could be one example. Other examples could be activities like knitting or organizing your bookshelf.

In games, submissive pleasure can manifest as activities that we have reduced to rote process. For example, veteran players of Tetris might play it on an easy difficulty level, more as a distraction than as a challenge. (The creation of order is a common theme for submission. Playing Tetris is like organizing your bookshelf; all the decisions are mandated by a simple, externally defined notion of “tidiness.”)

One (old) example from my own experience is in Star Control 2, where much of the game involved mining minerals on planets. The process becomes mechanical: fly to the planet, scan it for minerals, send your lander down to scoop them up, move on to the next planet. When a game tricks you into having fun doing something that would be a boring job in another context, that’s submission."
And that, friends, is why he's a big-time conference presenter. A clear, concise explanation!

But I still couldn't get this flow vs. unflow idea out of my head, when suddenly that 10 picowatt bulb went off in my head. Unflow experiences are purely subconscious! They're not completely mindless, but our conscious mind isn't involved. I'm not sure if the pleasure stems from our conscious mind appreciating the break, or from our subconscious mind not having to babysit the youngest member of the family, but that's the flow/unflow distinction.


posted by Mike at 12:09 PM


Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

Recreational drug use is "flow," correct?

(I ask because of the obsessive component of flow-seeking is very similar to that which is observed in junkies.)

There should be a tdaxp post on this, in the form of a movie review, soon.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I hate it when someone smarter than me messes with my ideas! ;)

Damn you Khan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flow-seeking COULD degenerate into drug use if the goal was simply the experience of losing context in favor of the moment. But if flow experiences were placed in the context of obtaining a greater goal, then they provide an expotential multiplier of good in pursuing that goal.

How's that?

9:15 PM  

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