Aug 15, 2009

Games to lift stress away: Flower, flOw, (and Cloud), from thatgamecompany

As I set out to revisit some of my early posts on this blog, I came across a link to a review the Flower game, created for the Playstation 3 by Jenova Chen, Kellee Santiago, and other members of thatgamecompany. It is good to know that this group continues to work towards the goal of creating innovative games that provide gaming experiences that are calming, pleasant to use, and are unlike most game genres.
(Credit: IGN)

"Supported HD Output: 720p, 1080i, 1080p- From the same developers that brought you the serene flOw comes Flower, whose gameplay has players guiding a flower petal across gorgeously rendered fields and plains, replete with individually modeled leaves of grass that blow and sway in the wind. Colorful, peaceful, and exhillerating, Flower is a difficult game to describe, and simply must be experienced in all it’s HD beauty to truly be appreciated. A real gem."

(Flower is played with the Sixaxis wireless game controller that can sense motions and provide precision in interactive game play. The Sixaxis was recently replaced by Duoalshock 3, which provides motion sensing and rumble. I'm not sure if the new controller works with Flower.)

The following video review by Pete Dorr won't give enough details about the game to spoil it for you. Go ahead and watch the review!

Since I don't have a PS3 (yet), I'm sharing a couple of reviews of Flower that I found on the IGN website:

"thatgamecompany's mellow, beautiful adventure through the dreams of plants starts out so disarmingly pleasant that one would be forgiven for assuming it's just a game about flying around and picking up flower petals. It's not until one experiences the couple-hour experience from beginning to end (preferably with 5.1 audio, the lights off and no human distractions) that the game really gets its emotional hooks into you. Without ever introducing a single line of dialogue, any characters (at least in the traditional sense) or clear goals, Flower takes you on a ride that's over far too soon, yet somehow seems just right for what it's trying to do: suck you into a world without the usual video game trappings while playing with your emotions in a way no amount of manufactured tear-jerk dialogue or surprise deaths ever could. It really is unlike anything else you'll ever play and stands as one of the best (if not the best) examples of SixAxis motion controls on the PS3."

"thatgamecompany has depicted something that I never once imagined: what would a flower's dream look like if we could see it? Flower, a PS3 downloadable that comes as a spiritual successor to flOw, is one of the most beautiful games that I've ever played. Not just because the visuals are entirely breathtaking, but also because the experience of playing it offers more enjoyment, emotion and enlightenment than any game I've tried in years."

"Before you read on, keep in mind that Flower isn't quite for everyone. There will be those that experiment with it but won't see the point, as it strays so far from the traditional spectrum of gameplay systems, but it's truly worth playing...Flower is a poem, where you as the player participate in the dreams of flowers confined to the ever-changing landscape of a colorless city. Each dream, or stage, revolves around a different theme and gameplay objective, but your method of control remains the same: tilt the controller to direct a series of flower petals through beautiful environments. Press any button to stir up a wind that will coax them along. As you begin with one flower petal, you'll soon touch other flowers and gather more petals, generally influencing the environment in a way that pleases the dreamer. This setup works amazingly well to create varying tasks for you to enjoy..."

Flower was listed as one one of the best games for the Playstation 3 for HDTV, along with a flOw, a 2006 game from the same company:

Best Playstation 3 Games For Showing Off Your New HDTV

"Supported HD Output: 720p, 1080i, 1080p- Calm, serene, and beautiful in it’s simplicity, flOw was one of the first PSN titles released when the Playstation 3 launched in November 2006, and it’s still a gorgeous work of art. From the calming music, to the simple gameplay, flOw proves that you don’t need high resolution textures and thousands of animations to produce a beautiful image."

"FlOw is a game about piloting an aquatic organism through a surreal biosphere where players consume other organisms, evolve, and advance their organisms to the abyss."

I came across Cloud about four years ago, when I was looking for non-violent games that could support relaxation and stress-reduction. Cloud was created by some of the members of thatgamecompany when they were students at UCS.

I later posted about how I used the game in in my work as a school psychologist:

Cloud is a relaxing, nonviolent game, created by graduate students at USC. The character, a child, flies around, collecting clouds and putting them into puzzles in the sky. The music is very soothing. The game is free and can be downloaded through the website. This game could be used to help relax students with anxiety disorders, Asperger syndrome, etc., develop coping strategies. Here is the link to the Cloud video trailer.
(I use the Cloud Game as a form of crisis intervention with students undergoing high level of agitation and stress at the middle and high school level.)

Below is a video of the Cloud game, which was designed for use on a computer. It still appears to be available for free from the USC website.

FlOw was Jenova Chen's MFA Thesis, built upon Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi's Flow Theory:

"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

The game went on to become an award-winning PS3 game.
The early web-based version of flOw is free, and some of the gameplay can be done using your finger on a touch screen. The music is relaxing, almost hypnotic.

Why this is important:

There is a need for games that can be used for relaxation, as most commercial games focus on action and thrills, often delivered through violence.

(Pictures and videos are from the IGN website, YouTube, and related websites.)

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