Let's start by talking about the concept of flow. To begin with, I was surprised to see the concept in the book. Just this winter break one of my friends recommended that I check out this book called "Flow" about the psychology of the optimal experience, so I bought it and started reading. Interesting coincidence to see the book being talked about in class when I'd just been introduced to it a few weeks before. I haven't gotten really far into the book, but overall, the concept is pretty complicated. Sutton-Smith only devotes 2-3 pages to the idea, and really, that's not enough room to describe it well. It is a rhetoric of self, and, by definition, the rhetorics of self have to do with "play in which play is idealized by attention to the desirable experiences of the players--their fun, their relaxation, their escape..." (Sutton-Smith, 11). Csíkszentmihályi emphasizes that, in order to be happy, you can't think about whether you're happy or not. As soon as you think "Am I happy?" you'll come up with something in life that's not right and preoccupy yourself with worrying about it. Csíkszentmihályi's steps to flow include step #2, which says that a person must reach a high level of concentration, focusing intently on the task at hand; in a sense, "living in the present." How this is possible, I'm not sure. The idea sounds good, but in the age we live in, there's so many stimuli begging for our attention, we feel like we have to know everything about the world, and the idea of sitting somewhere in a deep state of focus tinkering with something for pleasure...is just weird.
In my life, I'd say playing piano or singing is the way by which I get closest to flow. I've had musical training earlier in my life, and now I do it as a hobby. When playing piano, sometimes I do feel like "I'm in the zone." My fingers are moving, but I'm not really sure what's happening, especially with pieces that I've played over and over. I'll challenge myself to play the piece a slightly different way every time, but I couldn't really tell you how it works. I become absorbed in the activity, and the music...flows. I can sit there for a long time, playing the same thing over again with minor changes.
Let's redesign Mario Kart (N64 game) to be more likely to produce flow. Growing up, video games were really competitive and my friends and I would try our very hardest to win. Now that I'm older, winning isn't such a big deal anymore, and I've found it more fun to goof around during races (be playful). I propose eliminating laps and a finish entirely. Have an open course with hills, give the karts jetpacks, and let the players roam the landscape. I'd make it first-person as well, because I bet people are more likely to become absorbed if they are looking through the eyes of the character. There could be a building mode, where players can design their own structures (ramps, tracks, houses, etc). Other than that, you don't really need much else. People will find their own ways to occupy and challenge themselves within the game; just give them the tools to do that. They'll become focused on some "silly" task, like spending hours building an awesome ramp, and totally forget that they need to go to the bathroom. It would have to be well-designed, though, because flow requires the player to have a sense of control over the situation/environment. A poorly redesigned Mario Kart would only be frustrating.