After you’ve won, the game is over.
Here’s how it goes:
You beat every level. You reached the princess. Maybe a fancy fireworks animation congratulated you on work well done. Maybe there was a picture of a treasure chest. Maybe gold stars flashed across the screen.
At first, you are proud and exultant. But soon you are longing for the refuge of the gamescape. You’re bored in a way that that feels like homesickness. You crave the challenges, the dangers, and the stimulation of the virtual world with which you’ve become so well acquainted.
But you can’t go back.
So what do you do next? Now what?
You can go back to the beginning and hunt for Easter eggs.
You can play through the game again: this time as an expert! (Maybe this time you play as a different avatar. Maybe you try to get more weapons, or keys, or coins, or secret boxes.)
But the truth is, it’s never as fun as it was the first time.
The only solution is to start something else:
Pop in a new cartridge.
Slide a different disc into the system.
Download another file.
This time, remember that WINNING JUST MEANS YOU NEED A NEW BEGINNING.
Winning means the game is over. It is finished. Done.
Suddenly the big accomplishment of reaching the end of the game pales in comparison to the exploits along the way.
Why were you in such a rush to win? Is the goal of the game for it to be over? Or is the goal of the game for you to have fun?
Next time, why not play a little slower? Look around. Enjoy the graphics. Take some time to appreciate the pixelated landscape.
After all, it’s less about the prize and more about the moments of exuberant glee that you experience on the way to getting there.
To describe this experience, game designers use the words “flow” and “fiero.”
Flow is a term from the field of positive psychology. Flow describes the pleasure of total immersion. Flow is what you feel, as a player, when you are so wrapped up in the game that you barely notice the life-world around you. In fact, you barely notice yourself. You are absorbed in the tasks at hand.
Fiero is the Italian word for pride. It describes the way you feel when you complete a task. It is the beaming honor and self-regard that makes you want to puff out your chest because you overcame a challenge or conquered an adversary. Fiero is that exhilarating energy rush that you feel when you discover just the right way to jump, crushing two villains and getting an extra life while simultaneously opening up a wormhole to another level.
Fiero and Flow are more related than they seem at first glance.
The Italian word fiero comes from the same Latin root as our English word “fierce.” This is not only because the particular kind of pride that fiero describes makes us feel like an aggressive alpha predator at the top of the virtual food chain. Fiero also has to do with feeling of wildness. The Latin root fiera is also the origin of the English word “feral,” which means untamed or undomesticated.
The feeling of fiero, then, is less about pride and more about being your untamed self. Like “flow,” fiero is about the way you feel when you are liberated from the chatter of the civilized life world and enabled to just be uninhibited, to play free.
We want to maintain the flow of fiero. It is the opposite of being self-conscious. It is the ability to respond in an unrestrained way to the immediate circumstances of the world around us.
This is what great games allow us to do. But only when we’re playing, not when we’ve won. Winning is losing the game. Winning is letting the game slip away.
Don’t let the game get away from you. Don’t let it be lost.
Winning is ending. It interrupts the flow and precludes opportunities to experience fiero.
Instead, PLAY the game. Laugh. Smile. Delve into the rollercoaster-like thrill of tension and suspense. Experience it.
Because once it’s over, you’ll be bored. And then you’ll be stuck looking for a new way to occupy your time.
Stop playing to win and start enjoying the flow of fiero.
This piece originally appeared in the book FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss. For more information on author Jordan Shapiro CLICK HERE.