Why first-person shooters are so enjoyable
It’s not simply the first-person perspective, the three-dimensionality, the violence, or the escape. These are features of many video games today. But the first-person shooter combines them in a distinct way: a virtual environment that maximizes a player’s potential to attain a state that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”—a condition of absolute presence and happiness.
“Flow,” writes Csikszentmihalyi, “is the kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says: ‘that was fun,’ or ‘that was enjoyable.’ ” Put another way, it’s when the rest of the world simply falls away. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is mostly likely to occur during play, whether it’s a gambling bout, a chess match, or a hike in the mountains. Attaining it requires a good match between someone’s skills and the challenges that she faces, an environment where personal identity becomes subsumed in the game and the player attains a strong feeling of control. Flow eventually becomes self-reinforcing: the feeling itself inspires you to keep returning to the activity that caused it.
All these years I’ve waited for someone to scientifically explain why Halo was such an awesome game, and they did it.