Genre: Tower Defense
Year: 2009
Developed by: PopCap Games
Published by: PopCap Games
Platforms: All of them
Feeling Like: Vitamin TD

I love Tower Defense as a genre. You’ll see another half dozen before I complete the 500 in 500 years and they all have one thing in common; flow state.

I was thinking about flow the other day. Each week, work requires us to fill out our 15Five, a weekly software that enables employees to voice their concerns, recap their week, update their managers on progress, and so on. One of the questions was about flow state – how do you get in it, or try to get in it?

Flow state, in case you don’t know, is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best (according to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).

It’s one of my favorite questions. It took me about four seconds to think of my answer.

Right away, it’s at the blackjack table. I rarely gamble, but when I do, I’m totally entranced. It’s always with a group of friends or my fiancée, it’s always at the cheapest table, it’s always accompanied with booze and sugar and freedom and laughs and a feeling of pure joy. A dealer once reminded me that it had been seven hours since my last bathroom visit and if I was ok?

I was. I was very OK.

I get into a flow state at work when I don’t have any meetings. I get into a flow state when I’m having a great time at a party. I don’t even look at a clock when I’m on vacation at a lake, does that count?

Tower defense are the only category of video game that triggers my flow state. It’s frightening.

Six hours. I played Plants vs. Zombies for six hours in a single session from start to finish. No breaks, no saving, no need. Such a simple layout; a single screen with a grid and some geographic variations. You plant….plants. Zombies are coming. Fend them off. Easy.

Easy is accurate. I find playing Tower Defense easy. I don’t think the difficulty is necessary easy, mind you. I just never have a hard time figuring out the layout, or the controls, or why certain things happen. Many modern games are so tutorial and mechanics heavy early on that it tires me out, and this is coming from somebody who plays way too many video games. Board Games are even worse at this, don’t get me started. It’s refreshing to look at a screen and instantly know the challenge that’s coming. It’s all on you, the enemies are pre-determined. Where do you build? What do you build? How fast?

I feel so at ease. In a flow. Failure is never a problem, it just means I didn’t place my Wall-nuts correctly. Or I was experimenting with Snow Peas and it didn’t work out. Or I underestimated the strength of a new enemy. But I’ll know what’s coming next time and adjust. It’s supremely satisfying.

I’m at the table, not even thinking when I ask for a hit on 12. I’m troubleshooting tickets at 100 words per minute. I’m speaking with an old friend I haven’t seen in ages in the kitchen, because that’s the best room at a party. I’m lounging on the dock watching the lake go by.

I blink and it’s been four hours and I have no desire to do anything else. Levels progress naturally in difficulty. More weapons are added to my arsenal. More enemies reveal themselves. More hilarious quips and appropriate sound effects flood my headphones. Zen.

Not much else to say. I may have already told you everything you need to know about me and Tower Defense games, but since it’ll be another little while before another pops up, maybe I’ll have some more input by then.

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