Some interesting ideas part 1

Based on our class discussion today, I just want to quickly post a few of the ‘games’ (I loosely use this term as these items are not games in the conventional sense) that I have found riveting in their approach and expression of what it means to be ‘entertained’ or to play. These games are influenced by and readily identifiable by their unique ‘interpretative pacing’.

Dear Esther

I found this to be chilling, atmospheric and wistful. A romantic game in the sense that Wordsworth, Irving, and certainly the Shellys would find common ground here. As reviewed by

“Dear Esther is a morose interactive storybook which was originally a Half-Life 2 mod and now returns several years later as a retail release powered by the optimized Source engine used in Portal 2.

Dear Esther is gorgerous. There will no doubt be controversy as to whether it is a good game and the case could even be made that it isn’t even a game at all, but I doubt anyone can objectively look at it and not say it’s beauty is breathtaking. During the course of my complete playthrough, less than one hour :( , I took nearly a hundred screenshots (the best of which I’ve posted at the end of this article). Not for the emotionally bankrupt.

To appreciate Dear Esther you must be introspective, empathetic and patient. You move along at a snail’s pace and at first I struggled with this. But soon after I realized that the realistic rate at which you walk isn’t there to pad out game length (which is astoundingly short) but to force the player to really absorb their surroundings instead of whizzing by one set-piece on their way to another. Each and every hill you traverse or corner you turn gives way to something gorgeous. Whether that be the water crashing against the rocks of an ancient beach from a cliff side high above, or a subterranean river carrying a birch log down stream towards immeasurable depths.

My favorite part of exploring the island were the random bits of trivia you can find if you look closely enough at your surroundings. Electronic schematics intermingling with chemical diagrams,  a nest of broken bird eggs with ultrasound Polaroids littered around it, a candle lit altar found inside a sea side cave with a surgical tray of bloodied instruments and a disused defibrillator placed upon it. These surreal oddments don’t exactly reveal any great truths but instead help to flesh out the mysteries that permeate this adventure. Namely, Who is Esther? and What happened to her?

There are no weapons or enemies, no power ups to collect or areas to unlock. You can’t fall off a cliff to your demise or even drown yourself in the ocean. But as an interactive story it is surprisingly strong. The narrator’s voice acting is top notch and the emotions of loss and regret are realistically conveyed to the player.”


(For those with time issues, skip to the 6:15 time mark)

Perhaps the most unconventional ‘game’ I’ve ever played, here you play as a floating petal on the wind. You being with a shot of a closed flower in bud, in a pot, on a window sill. The flower then seems to create a narrative based upon its ‘origins’.  The game does have a loose narrative regarding rural and urban landscapes, environmental issues and renewable energy. The actions you take in the rural landscape affecting the quality of life in the urban, indicating the renewal of the urban and the rural should be synergistic, not exclusive. Each petal you gain emits a note, and so the score is dynamic and set by the pace of play. Skip to 1:45 to 2:25 to see the flower interacting with haystacks, and the relationship this induces with the street lights, as at the start of the chapter, the light on an urban street fails. Towards the end of the level, the harsh and threatening issue of the malignancy of excessive power consumption (the collapsed scaffolding for high tension cables in the rural landscape) indicate the fractious nature of our relationship with energy and our natural world and its limited resources at timemark 6:30.

It is possibly one of the most uplifting play experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to engage with. You control the flower through tilting the controller, with the occasional button push to speed up. The flower can solve puzzles in the landscape, by flowing on the wind around standing stones (which in later levels are supplemented by wind farms), linking certain types of flowers together to renew the habitat, etc. The score and stunning visuals create a soothing and enveloping environment. Hewing closer to dance than gaming,  the lack of any voice, text, or  any of the typical features of game-play make flower a unique experience.


What’s in a name?

Etymology: Greek autotelēs, from aut- + telos, meaning self + goal. (shout out to redbarn)

The Oxford English Dictionary cites its earliest use as 1901 (Baldwin, Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology I 96/1), and also cites a 1932 use by T. S. Eliot (Essays I. ii. 24).

The title of this blog originated from the book Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. Her book deals with the issues surrounding modern gaming and game design, and applying the theories associated with the field to issues in life.  The chapter on designing a game to assist her recovery from a head injury was enlightening and creative, yet bluntly honest with regards to the teething problems all interventionist systems can encounter.

McGonigal refers to positive psychology on a frequent basis throughout, and the work on the concept of flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Csikszentmihalyi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. Thus, the origin of research on the theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihalyi tried to understand this phenomenon experienced by these artists.

It is found across history from the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the “action of inaction” or “doing without doing” that greatly resembles the idea of flow. Also, Indian texts on Advaita philosophy such as Ashtavakra Gita and the Yoga of Knowledge such as Bhagavad-Gita refer to a similar state. Michaelangelo is now considered to have been in a state of flow when paining the Sistine Chapel.

More recently flow was used  in the theories of Maslow and Rogers in their development of the humanistic tradition of psychology. Flow can be identified across many areas; in education through overlearning and the Montessori method, improvisational music, sport psychology, religion and spirituality, gaming, occupational psychology. Flow  has also been implicated in the addiction process, as the neuropsychological components are becoming better understood. So how does semiautotelic fit into all this? There are 6 components in the flow process, the final one being the autotelic state; experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.

The aspect of flow and the autotelic experience that captivated me personally related to the theories of happiness, within positive psychology. It states that there area many ways to be happy, but that we cannot find happiness.

“No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness – by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.”

(Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade, 2005)

Those things which result from partaking in an activity which generates intrinsic rewards; positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections that we build by engaging with the world around us. It’s not about the praise, or the payout (so how many of us does  the autotelic experience really occur within?). McGonigal contends that we undertake autotelic work because it engages us completely, and because intense engagement is the most pleasurable, satisfying, and meaningful emotional state we can experience.

Personally having experienced this state while painting (even when mixing colours), reading, gaming, or listening to music. In fact, the creative field is abundant with such autotelic experiences. The self-goal is at the heart of all creativity, be is within the humanities or the sciences. The crux of the autotelic experience is even more relevant in the Ireland that I live in, as the pursuit of the autotelic maintains that a person can be happy more often than not- no matter what else is going on their lives. It flys in the face of what most of us have been taught, that to be happy life must be a certain way, and that the easier life is, the happier we are. But the relationship between hard work, intrinsic reward, and lasting happiness has been verified and confirmed.

The challenge now is activating our own happiness through intense interaction in our lives, as represented by the title image; different aspects flowing in and out, connecting and changing. On this blog I intend to address those things that I encounter that are autotelic in nature, assist flow, or act as a barrier to it. The semi in semiautotelic indicates that the autotelic state is not always fully accessible, but that there still are moments of value and positivity to be cherished, and the manner in which the digital realm can assist, augment and emphasize these intrinsic events. Lets create a positive place in this corner of the online world.