What is transcendental meditation?
Transcendental meditation is the most commonly practiced form of meditation in the world. People who practice it often listen to, or repeat, a particular sound or mantra in order to reach a relaxed state of consciousness. It’s been praised by many for decades as a means of lowering stress and anxiety.
What is a “flow state” within a video game?
Video games that require quick thinking, fast reflexes and precision are often difficult to excel at - but with practice, the game can be mastered. When mastered, the player’s physical precision is almost effortless (encoded in “muscle memory”), the the thought processes seem perfectly natural. It’s as if your mind is actually “in” the game. This state is often called “the zone” by gamers, or a “flow state” by psychologists.
Joel West describes what a flow state is like in the 2007 documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade:
When you play a video game, there are days when it’s fighting you. Then there are days when you and the game become “one” - you’re fluid, you’re focused, you’re with the game. You’re right there with it, and everything is right - there’s nothing that is wrong, and you can’t even hear what’s going on outside of your realm, you’re so focused. There’s nothing. It’s very much a spiritual experience.
The simple arcade games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Pac-man and Galaga, are often good examples of games that require quick thinking, fast reflexes and precision. However, there are many other games today that also contain the same ingredients - the key is to avoid games that spur emotion, require varied thinking, or are comprised mainly of unpredictable elements. For example, first person shooters that are played across a network are poor for creating a flow state since those games often rely on changing pace, emotional story elements, and the unpredictability of other player opponents.
A flow state within a video game is very similar to the relaxed state of consciousness achieved by transcendental meditation - the world around you disappears, and your thought processes are focused effortlessly.
Moreover, the repeated recital of mantras in transcendental meditation (e.g. “so…hum…”) mimics the physical patterns that are ultimately encoded into muscle memory through repetition when mastering a video game. Both allow the mind to de-focus on the outside world, and focus on a higher sense of consciousness in a relaxing way. For those who meditate, this higher sense of consciousness allows them to put their sense of being into focus, and for those who achieve a flow state while playing a video game, it allows them to put the challenges presented by the game into focus and complete them with ease.
Finally, both transcendental meditation and the process of achieving a flow state within a video game provide the same end result. As Joel West eluded to at the end of his quote, there is a profound sense of satisfaction and relaxation after experiencing a flow state during a video game. And this parallels the satisfaction and relaxation that comes to people after practicing transcendental meditation.
So, the next time your significant other complains that you’re spending too much time playing video games, be sure to tell them that you are, in fact, trying to achieve relaxation and focus through transcendental mediation.