I frequently frame the world around me according to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. In the book, Tolle describes “ego” as the voice in our heads, an unending stream of desires that always results in suffering. He describes inner peace as the suspension of this voice. There is a similar concept described in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow. Flow is the infinite happiness felt while performing an activity whose difficulty matches your skill level, and they are at the maximum level possible. (I have not read through Flow, but I am familiar with the concept.*)
Inner peace may be obtained via meditation – minimizing action to clear our minds and absorb the world, seeing it as it really is. Buddhist monks perform simple tasks, such as raking sand, to assist in meditation. Simple kinetic movement aids in the clearing of the mind. On the other hand, the flow state is reached via performing a certain level of activity – the most extreme one can handle. What does it mean that these two states, which we’ll assume to feel the same, are acquired through performing actions on opposite ends of the difficulty spectrum? This requires future thought.
We have missed the mark on creating experiences that enable inner peace in players. I think Flower comes closest to this goal. However, as in meditation, it is up to the player to suspend his/her ego and absorb the world. Flower falls short by providing goals to players, forcing ego back into their minds (sure, the player could choose not to follow them).
An alternative is to not provide goals to players, as in Minecraft. Here, goals are self-created and intrinsically motivated. However, self-created goals in Minecraft seem egotistical as well. For example, digging the deepest tunnel, surviving for 30 nights, and seeking your long, lost cabin after dying are all fueled by desire. That satisfaction eventually withers, unlike inner peace.
Are all games egotistical? If we assume that Raph Koster is correct in that all games are about learning, does that mean all learning is egotistical? It could imply learning through games is egotistical, but I wonder about learning as a whole.
Players should experience real pleasure they can hold on and come back to effortlessly, not pleasure that is brief and fleeting. That is to say, pleasure experienced through peace, not ego satisfaction. How can we create experiences that draw out inner peace?
I am reading Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun, and I liked this: “Games thus far have not really worked to extend our understanding of ourselves.” As A New Earth has helped me understand myself and the world around me, I hope to someday create experiences that encourage this understanding in others.
*Yes, I know I need to read Flow : ) I am making my way through the game design classics, and I will get there.