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The Best Example of "Flow State" in Gaming

There are others, but this one takes the cake for sure.

By JirasuPublished 2 months ago 9 min read
Thumbnail art by ST3DOOM:

There is a phenomenon with video games that can occur when players become completely incapsulated in what they are engaging with; becoming so focused and attentive of what is on the screen, that for a brief moment, their sense of space and what’s going on around them kind of fades away into the back of their subconscious. It’s called “flow state” and there are plenty of videos talking about what it is and how to achieve it right here on YouTube. Today, the plan is not to get into the science of flow state itself but look at examples of games and genres where this phenomenon is most likely to occur and discuss one game that might take the number one spot for most likely to get you engaged in flow state the fastest. We’re also going to look at what factors contribute inside games that might help realize those moments of zoning out of the world around you and into whatever it is you might be playing. I have a few examples I’d like to mention, but out of all the games out there, all the genres and ways video games can pull you into their rich and interesting worlds, in terms of really nailing those flow state moments, it’s difficult to find another game that does it better than DOOM Eternal. A hyper aggressive first-person shooter that is a direct sequel to the legendary revival of the DOOM franchise back in 2016. And even though personally I think DOOM 2016 is a better game (that conversation would require its own video), DOOM Eternal’s 30-second gameplay loop is FAR superior to 2016’s. More mechanics, more demons you need to shoot, it’s faster, the enemies AI is much more aggressive; it’s an overall better experience to play if you are familiar with DOOM and want a greater challenge. And it’s those moments where you are fighting a horde of enemies that creates these flow state moments; once you get deep enough into the game, there is a tooltip that pops up on screen that basically says you have all the tools we are going to offer you, now you need to put them to the test. And from there, the magic that is DOOM Eternals perfect flow state can really shine through.

But before we go into detail about DOOM, let’s take a moment to appreciate some honorable mentions for other examples of games and genres that can also easily fulfil flow state while gaming. I have two other games that for myself personally, when dialed into can evoke flow state almost naturally. The first is a fighting game from 2013, and one I put easily over 1000 hours into because I enjoyed it so much. Killer Instinct; it was the first fighting game I took seriously. And what I mean is actually learning all the mechanics, matchups, and actively trying to get a higher rank online. Fighting games in general have the ability to get deep into your brain because they require so much from you both mentally and mechanically. Landing combos, blocking correctly, solid neutral and just general execution across the board. But what really sets KI on a pedestal for me is the music while you’re fighting. The composer Mick Gordon (who also did the music for DOOM 2016 and Eternal), went above and beyond with KI’s music. Not only with the score for each stage, but also making each song change dynamically with what’s going on during a fight. Land a combo breaker? You get this almost record-scratch-like moment that resets the music. Finish a combo with over sixteen hits? The music swells into its main chorus. Low on HP in the second round? The music begins to build and add tension to the match, because now all it takes is a single hit and you can get K.O.’ed. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but music in video games is critical for me to enjoy it. If the game has a solid OST or has moments where the music can really shine through, I’ll end up enjoying myself that much more. Music has been important my entire life, so when game companies put the time into making an OST that kicks ass, I always appreciate it on a deeper level. And Killer Instinct arguably has some of the best OST’s to fight to in any fighting game ever. Rivaling the legendary Tekken series. And while others might have different fighting games where they experience these more visceral reactions, to me, my flow state moments with KI happen even to this day when I’m just messing around fighting the AI. That game is so ingrained in my brain, that after not playing for a while, when I jump back in, it’s like riding a bike. But it’s not the only game or genre that can do that to me.

Racing games have a similar kind of brain-worm-like quality to them where once you start playing them, you can just kind of sink into the world of wherever you are driving and everything else kind of just fades away. And one game that does it for me is another older one, Midnight Club II. I made a video on the game many years ago, when I was still figuring things out, but just wanted to gush about one of my favorite racing games ever made. For how arcadey it is, the game can prove to be quite challenging in the latter third of the game when you get to Japan, the last area of the game. And the final gauntlet of races, trying to beat Savo, is certainly a true test of your driving prowess. The first race in Paris is easily the hardest race in the entire game. And trying to beat Savo, all while he takes mad shit to you throughout all six of his races, while his theme blasts at full volume, can really get into my head. I find myself not saying a word, just paying attention to what’s in front of me, while my head moves to the beat of the music. I would suggest that any game that can invoke that reaction from you while playing, would be able to get you into flow state. And even if it’s a challenging game, eventually, you’ll find your stride and be triumphant over whatever obstacle is put in your way. These two games are awesome personal examples of flow state in gaming, but now, let’s go over probably the best one I’ve experienced recently.

I bought DOOM Eternal during the Spring sale on Steam, because I had played and watched 2016 to death. I love that game; arguably more than Eternal as an experience. But DOOM Eternal is such a different video game, when compared to its prequel. It’s faster, harder, more enemies, more mechanics; they went all out with the second game. To me, and I’ve always said this after both games were released: DOOM 2016 was the game ID Software had to make in order to revive DOOM for the next generation. DOOM Eternal is the game they wanted to make. Once it became a success, ID decided, in the words of Bob Ross to: “Let’s get crazy.” And they certainly did with this title. It’s just 2016 with more of everything players would want. More guns, demons, abilities, mechanics, difficulty; the entire kitchen sink was thrown at this game. And it’s half of the reason why Eternal feels so easy to play and get into a rhythm. You move, dodge, strafe, and tear your way through the hordes of demons, all while listening to more godlike music from Mick Gordon. Music is the other half of the formula for flow state in DOOM Eternal. When you enter an arena and the music drops in with heavy metal and guitar riffs, I lose sight of everything around you. I start emulating the glory kill animations because they are so visceral, and I just feel powerful whenever I start one. The head bob naturally kicks into full gear and the music refuses to leave my brain. Granted, even 10 plus hours into a play though, once you have acquired all your abilities there is still enough going on that you might get overwhelmed sometimes. But that’s okay, because I honestly think that’s kind of point. You generally have less ammo than the previous game, there are more enemies on screen at any one time, and dying feels like it only takes a couple hits. So, you need to utilize your entire set of abilities to survive this time. Constantly switching weapons, lighting enemies on fire with the flam belcher, and then following up with a chainsaw to recoup your vital assets to keep killing. There is a new balance to how every mechanic in the game should be utilized that wasn’t quite there in the prequel because ammo was more abundant, you could generally hold more ammunition for each weapon type, and the chainsaw was meant to just kill demons, not replenish your reserve ammo. But here, they give you more tools because the game is going to be more challenging. People have described DOOM Eternal’s gameplay as a dance, and I honestly couldn’t agree more. Everything needs to be executed well otherwise you risk dashing straight into a bunch of enemies and taking a ton of unnecessary damage. Luckily, the game also has a lot more parkour and traversal elements to the game for the in between sections as well as while you are fighting enemies, allowing you moments to get above in the sky and either rain down fire, or take a breather to figure out your next plan of attack. These elements come together to really solidify flow state with this game; after you beat each arena filled with enemies, you stop, you blink once or twice and take a deep breath because they are just that intense, and the adrenaline begins to wear off. And don’t even get me started on the slayer doors. Optional arenas in the game that pose some of the hardest challenges in the entire campaign. If you think just playing through the game normally is stressful, try one of those optional arenas. They take it to another level. And you will certainly be entering flow state to beat a slayer arena. You need to lock it in; otherwise, the enemies are just going to roll you over. Other than playing the game on the hardest difficulty, these slayer gates are where the largest challenge will come from.

DOOM Eternal is a fantastic game in its own right; a wonderful successor to 2016. And again, while there are elements and pacing decisions, I like more in 2016, Eternal is a better video game. All the fighting you end up doing just sinks into the deepest parts of your subconscious and all the movements you make become second nature. The weapon wheel slows down time for a couple seconds, giving you brief windows to dodge attacks or to figure out the highest priority enemy. It all just works so beautifully. The levels are also much longer in this game, and that also contributes to getting into flow state because you’re spending more time per level dialed in killing and doing parkour. I genuinely love both games, because they facilitate something that has been lost to time with video games: just being a fun ass video game. It sounds stupid but go back to old games like Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. That’s a video game ass video game. No tricks, no BS MTX’s. You buy the game and get to play it. And it’s fun! DOOM Eternal takes me back to those times where games were designed and created to be fun and engaging over endless money pits. It’s not perfect, of course, but the game gets enough right that playing it just puts a smile on my face. Well, it does after a kill all the demons in an area and I get to breath. Because otherwise, I am dialed in, my senses are all in overdrive and I can safely say I have entered flow state. And I can’t think of another game that does it better. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to watch this video. Let me know in the comments what games you play that get you into flow state and be sure to subscribe for more videos about philosophical and arbitrary ideas that come out of putting your hands on either a controller, or mouse and keyboard. I hope to see you in future ones.

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Scripts about the things I find interesting. Most are for videos on my YouTube channel.

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