Category Archives: flow

Peter Eden

Twenty-five years ago I called a number in a small ad in the back of Dr. Dobb’s Journal to order six copies of Resource Workshop. The guy on the other end wouldn’t let me off the phone for over an hour.

As a self-taught programmer I was ruled by insecurity. But Peter Eden’s love for programmers was so overwhelming that if you came into his orbit and wanted to be his friend, he would be your friend. And what a gift that friendship was. If you didn’t learn something about programming, music or life from being in his presence then you were not paying attention.

My memories of him run deep and wide. I can’t count the number times he let me crash on his couch or saved my ass when I was stuck in a vortex of workplace hell.

There was a period in the 90′s  when his software office was on College Ave. in Berkeley behind the movie theatre.  The office next to him was a scream-therapy clinic. That meant that any conversation you tried to have with Peter would be interrupted every few minutes by a top-of-the-lungs blood curdling scream through the thin walls. Peter would look at you and shrug and say “Welcome to Berkeley.”

But he wasn’t always so nonchalant.  His passion often translated into glorious frustration. When I got to Borland (thanks to his sponsorship) our offices were perpendicular.  I got the shock of my life when an IBM OS/2 manual came hurtling down the hall, past my office, fluttering like a bird that had lost its power, bouncing on the ground several times before sliding to a stop.

It’s not a coincidence that the guy who I couldn’t get off the phone 25 years ago is the last friend I had that insisted on using the phone to stay in touch. (I have more than one voice message from him in my queue as I write this – what was it like using Ruby on Rails? did I ever get my iOS project to build?, and to just, you know, give him a call sometime…)

The last time I talked with him was a few weeks ago when he called and I eagerly picked up because I was in a car passing his hometown on Long Island. He reminisced about his youthful days spent around the Hamptons and , of course, he had very stern advice about the best route to get back into Manhattan.

I think Peter struggled to be happy but in that he showed me how to do it. As a software entrepreneur he often generated success out of an itch he needed to scratch. (And by “itch” I mean a screaming rage at some lame behavior of Windows.) As a person I learned from him that if you want to be happy the answer is fairly simple: surround yourself with the things that would most likely make you happy! In his case: programming, music and friends. In my case: programming, music and Peter Eden.

I am still reeling from the news of the sudden death of my dear friend Peter. I owe so much to him and it wounds me that I’ve been robbed of the opportunity to repay him. He really was a Good Guy, so generous and loving and tender and I’ve been crying or fighting back tears since yesterday when I was told he was dead.

Please honor Peter by doing the following: be unconditionally sweet and lovely to the very next person you encounter – whether on the phone or in person, the UPS delivery guy or your kid or your boss – just be as respectful and kind as you can muster because that’s what Pete would have done.

The “Gaming as Art” Debate Settled

Follow me for a moment or two or ten:

  • Story telling is the closest video gaming will get to “art” as we know it
  • All art, especially storytelling, is a process of sharing – it is an outward energy
  • Gameplay, the verb in video gaming, is really all about reaching, fostering and maintaining Flow
  • Flow is an internal growth process
  • Flow is possible (required?) to create art in the artist, as opposed to…
  • …the beholder/consumer of art is not in flow when reacting to art. (Notable exception to this is when consumer has an expertise in the art and can experience flow when consuming the art while applying that expertise.)

Flow is, by definition, the focus of 100% of the gamer’s attention, therefore this is no “room” in the attention span to be emotionally impacted by a story going on around the Flow. For example: just as a mountain climber in deep Flow to get to the top of the mountain can not break their thoughts with daydreams of how great it will be to reach the top (or terrible to fall off the mountain and die) so a gamer can not be distracted by the internal moral struggles of the character while immersed in gameplay.

So… art is not (generally) related to a consumer being in Flow. That is: art consumption and gameplay Flow can not, by these definitions exist in the same players thoughts at the same time.

Yet… games seems somehow “artistic.” See: 10 artists who use video gaming

Now, here’s a question: when was the last time “art” was truly redefined? Duchamp? Abstract expressionism? Maybe Warhol? Certainly not since. Aren’t we due?

Maybe, to the generation after mine: the art that we all agree is in games, the art that wraps around Flow (with motivation before the fact and reward afterwards) is enough to force a redefinition…. think about how cool it would be if it was taken for granted that generating Flow during consumption was considered as artistic an expression as falling into Flow when creating art?

Personally, when I think game designers accept these tenants (or something like them) we will begin to see and accept stories that wrap around a Flow experience as completely legitimate and unique art form.

“…I think it’s a dream to think that there will be some renaissance, some incredible simultaneous tear through which truly emotionally impactful games will flow forth like rain over scorched earth. Rather, this will be a slow, deliberate process of incremental change.”

Ian Bogost 2003

It may take a while but some of us working and thinking about it can help this “deliberate process of incremental change” take a few steps down the road.

Did you hear the one about Flow?

The name of the site could be interpreted as a pessimistic self-fulfilling prophecy of how I think the site (and my life) will go. If you are attracted to this site because you’re hoping the name indicates that it will focus on negative, self-deprecating, nihilistic and caustic themes then prepare to be disappointed (which, in a way, should make you happy).

First and foremost, I’ve always loved that expression. The rest is back-filling rationale but then, what in this life is not back-filling rationale?

Here’s what happened:  at the end of ’09 every natural source of dopamine and endorphin fell away. My job, money, marriage, and health were  all fucked. Then the worst: my dad died in June ’10.

By the end of ’10 I had a very simple mission for myself: get happy.

I was convinced that I should be able to do this without talk therapy or drugs. While I remain open to “professional” tactics if I fail on my own, I just don’t believe that I need them to get happy.

The framework I’m using to get happy is a formalized theory around techniques I had been developing my whole life. That theory is called “Flow.” Here’s the TED talk on it:


Unfortunately Csikszentmihaly (pronounced “chicks send me high”) is a terrible presenter and the talk, ironically enough, comes off as painfully boring. Really, if you’re interested  then here’s the book at Amazon.

I have zero interest in being an evangelist for Flow or explaining why it would work or not work in anybody’s life except mine. Having said that, it would be awesome if you realize there might be something in it for you by my, er, testimonials.