Discussions about the positive psychological value of video games can often be met with scepticism, as many people tend to interpret this hobby as a simple waste of time. Gaming can, indeed, become compulsive, however, the same thing can happen with any activity humans participate in, and this fact alone shouldn’t serve as a reason to turn a blind eye on all possible psychological benefits that can be extracted from playing video games. One of these benefits of video games might include the achievement of a state of mind known as the “Flow”.
Origins of the Flow in Zen Buddhism
The origins of the Flow concept can be traced back all the way to the far East, particularly to the branch of Buddhism known as Zen. Those interested in Buddhism might know that the highest spiritual goal of Buddhist worldview is Nirvana – an ambiguous metaphysical condition where suffering does not exist, contrary to the repetitive world of Samsara, which we inhabit daily.
It is said that in the state of Nirvana oppositions between things are revealed to be illusory. This includes even the opposition between everyday suffering-filled world of Samsara and Nirvana itself! This is pretty much where the benefits of video games come in: because there is fundamentally no difference between the everyday world and highest spiritual goal, Zen Buddhists began to search for Nirvana in mundane everyday practices. For a modern person, these include gaming as well.
Zen Buddhists took notice of the fact that when a skilled person is immersed in a particular daily activity, they do not reflect their actions consciously. It is as if the actions happen completely on their own, without thinking or planning. In fact, overthinking and over-planning tend to be extremely counterproductive to the task at hand. Therefore, Zen Buddhists coined the idea of “mushin no shin” (that will later be revealed as one of the characteristic benefits of video games) which translates as “mind without mind” or “thought without thought”.
Flow as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines
The most accurate Western analogue to the Eastern Zen Buddhist idea of “mushin no shin” is the previously mentioned concept of the Flow, sometimes also called the “Zone”. The term was coined by the contemporary Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who described the Flow as a mental state of thoughtless and effortless concentration. Usually, the Flow is achieved through engagement in an activity which requires training and skill.
Examples of such activities may include martial arts (which were practised by Zen Buddhists), playing a musical instrument or drawing. In this exact way, the Flow also can be understood as one of the psychological benefits of video games, as an engagement in any game creates the conditions for the player to enter the mental Zone.
Attainment of the Flow in video games
The possibility of achieving the Flow state in video games shouldn’t be doubted. Those gamers who regularly play multiplayer first-person shooters like Counter Strike, Call of Duty or Overwatch, can easily notice themselves entering the Zone during an intense gunfight. Usually, these players react to an enemy in time spans that could be measured in milliseconds! It is impossible for conscious reasoning or abstract, detailed planning to take place during such moments.
In turn, one of the greatest benefits of video games is that they provide an easily accessible means to understand the concepts of “mushin no shin” – or the Flow – not only in theory but also in practice. In addition, this knowledge is gained by having fun at the same time! Having said all that, video games in this way become not only the means of entertainment but also a tool for education which can be used to gain a practical understanding of philosophical ideas, psychological concepts as well as insight to the biological notions of the Flow as the “muscle memory”.
Benefits of video games in the understanding of meditation
It’s not hard to conceive the Flow as the main goal of the simplest meditation techniques. Usually, the practice of meditation can be understood as training yourself to control your own attention, protecting yourself from distractions and disturbing influences both from within and from without. Quite often this mental training involves focusing your attention on a particular object or experience, such as breathing. The practitioner of meditation observes their own breath without allowing himself to be disturbed by outside events or accumulating thoughts.
Therefore, it should be noticed that the benefits of video games also include the training of patience and focus, that is found in various meditation practices. One of the best examples of this meditative gaming is a recently released video game called Death Stranding, coming from the infamous Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima, who’s also known for the critically acclaimed Metal Gear game series.
Death Stranding is a game of an unconventional design: you play as a currier constantly crossing difficult terrain of a post-apocalyptic world. Death Stranding is consciously created with an intent to make the player put in genuine effort in order to see the beauty and benefits of video games which belong to this “meditative” category, as the practice of meditation often requires the same out of the practitioner.
A way to practice the Flow in video games easier
Obviously, most video games, especially the latest, high budget triple-A titles, need to be purchased in order to play them. If one seeks to understand the nature of “mushin no shin” mind through the medium of video games, this will require a certain financial sacrifice. Luckily, there is a way to purchase games a lot cheaper through buying video game key codes in various digital marketplaces, one good example would be Eneba.com. Feel free to purchase your favourite titles cheaper and discover the discussed benefits of video games all by yourself!