(EDIT: That describes one end of the spectrum of these kind of experiences. These same principles also apply to having more normal experiences of fun and enjoyment from something challenging.)
In extreme cases, everything becomes clear, and your actions seem effortless, automatic, and highly precise and efficient--things can even seem to slow down.
We call the more intense instances being "in the zone," "locked in," "unconscious," or "on fire." Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi named it flow. It is among the best experiences we can have as human beings.
More often, we just call it having fun.
That feeling is the reason we play Starcraft.
We are chasing those kinds of experiences, and this game is one of the best, most reliable ways to get to it if you approach it the right way.
I'm going to break down the ten factors that accompany these experiences of flow and show how they each relate to playing SC2.
The factors are:
- Clear goals
- A loss of feelings of self-consciousness
- Loss of a sense of time
- Direct and immediate feedback
- Balance between ability level and challenge
- A sense of control over the activity
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding
- Lack of awareness of your biological needs
- Your entire awareness becomes focused on the activity itself
1. ***CLEAR GOALS
WHAT NOT TO DO: Don't make winning your only goal. That's because you can't always control whether or not you win, you can't always get direct and immediate feedback on whether or not you are going to win, you'll probably NOT win at least 30% of the time, it isn't intrinsically rewarding (in the sense meant above), and the very idea of winning involves your ego massively--not good for losing those feelings of self-consciousness.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Focus on executing your build order. Focus on having a plan in advance for tactics and strategy. Have an idea for your early, mid, and late game. Pick some other things to accomplish each game (upgrades, expansions, scouting, harassment, micro, macro, building placement, etc.).
Make those kinds of things your primary focus before, during, and immediately after the game. Let winning and losing roll off your back completely, make them unimportant side-effects of all of these other goals--be zen-like about it.
Have these goals clearly laid out. Write them down. Don't change them too much until you've mastered what you were working on.
WHAT NOT TO DO: Don't let yourself have too many distractions (obviously). Whether that applies to your music, your viewers, your friends, your chatting, or things in the game other than your goals (you get caught up in micro when you intended to work on macro). Don't focus on winning because that's always going to be a distraction from your real goals.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Get laser focused on your goals. Have the plan in your mind. Go over that plan constantly. Be looking for the cues and information that apply to what you're trying to do. Day's mantra of "workers, supply, money" is a good example of this.
3. ***LOSS OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
WHAT NOT TO DO: Don't rage. Don't focus on winning. Don't flame. Don't respond to flaming. Don't get caught up in your short-comings as a player.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Be polite. Try not to let flaming or opponent rage impact you too much. Pay attention ONLY to the things on your list of goals for the game--if you suck at micro and are painfully aware of it but that's not the thing you're trying to work on, then decide in advance not to sweat micro in the slightest.
4. *** DISTORTED SENSE OF TIME
WHAT NOT TO DO: Continue glancing at the clock while playing. Listen to short music tracks that break up your experience into 3-minute chunks. Get bogged down in build-order timings that you aren't super-familiar with.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Make your basic timings one of the first things you work on, so you don't have to focus on that any more. Learn it stone-cold. As more sophisticated timings become relevant to your game, roll back your expectations on other areas so you can focus on those, master them, and move on.
5. *** DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK
WHAT NOT TO DO: Decide to practice sentry force-field micro by playing in ladder games. Never watch your replays.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Pick the right approach to working towards a given goal. If you want to practice with force-fields, open the unit tester. Find a map designed for force-field micro practice. Have your practice partner mass zerglings while you mass sentries and then see how long you can prevent him from getting into your base.
Or for a different example, if you really want to practice combating mech in your ZvT, don't hop on the ladder where you may go 8 games in a row without playing against a Terran only for him to do a bio-build. A practice partner or a special map would be the way to go there as well.
Also, it's hard to get direct feedback when you're not sure how you failed to reach your goal. Check out the replay when there's missing info that you need in order to improve.
6. ***BALANCE BETWEEN ABILITY LEVEL AND CHALLENGE LEVEL
WHAT NOT TO DO: Don't build 5 bases if you have no prayer of managing 5 bases. On the other side, don't just do your cheesy all-in rush that you could do in your sleep every game without any other objective in mind to challenge you.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Take baby steps. If you aren't good at macro, focus on successfully spending all your money off of two bases. Maybe build 5 bases, but instead of trying to manage them effectively, see how quickly you can get 200 workers on the field. Or try to spend 5 bases worth of income with no regard whatsoever for whether that money is spent well. Build 30 command centers if you need to. Again, whatever you're working on, take baby steps.
7. ***A SENSE OF CONTROL OVER THE ACTIVITY
WHAT NOT TO DO: Don't play like your hair is on fire, giving yourself more things to manage and focus on than you can possibly feel like you have a sense of control over.
Also, don't be frantically mapping control group hotkeys without some kind of plan. Don't rely on the tooltips to give you the keyboard shortcuts for building a certain unit or getting a certain upgrade.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Limit the amount of stuff you have to attend to until you are very comfortable, then move up slowly. Have a solid plan for how you want your mechanics to go. Focus on learning hot keys, get comfortable managing control groups, etc..
This might be one of the most important things to do for a new player. If you aren't comfortable with controlling the game, you will have trouble doing anything else on this list of things associated with flow. You'll be self-conscious, it'll feel too difficult, you'll be distracted often, etc..
8. ***THE ACTIVITY IS INTRINSICALLY REWARDING
WHAT NOT TO DO: Focus on winning. Focus on your ranking. Focus on your win record. Focus on showing up a bad mannered jerk.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Play because you enjoy the sense that you're getting better. Play because you like reaching those little goals mentioned above.
9. ***LACK OF AWARENESS OF BIOLOGICAL NEEDS
This isn't something to strive for, more of a side-effect of being in flow.
10. ***YOUR ENTIRE AWARENESS BECOMES FOCUSED ON THE ACTIVITY ITSELF
Again, this is more of a natural product of all of the other things being put into practice. If you have clear, specific goals, and you put yourself in a position where you're focused on that and getting immediate feedback, you have a great chance of getting this effect from time to time.
The key here is the purity and intensity of the other factors. If you are really locked-in because you have a handful of these factors down pat, you're likely to get to this place.
Even if it's subconscious or they don't think in these terms, flow is often the secret sauce behind the performance of the top gamers, top athletes, top musicians, and artists in the world. It's why they can work for hours and hours on end with minimal fatigue or boredom. It's why they can remain passionate about something even after decades spent on mastery.
In fact, when it comes to Starcraft 2, you'll find a lot of these principles at work in the wisdom of everybody's favorite nerd, Day, and his approach to the game. If you pay attention to his advice, it's often about breaking things down into clear goals, taking baby steps, concentrating on specific things, being willing to let go of winning in order to work on new aspects of your game, and so on.
Furthermore, if you watch Daily #100, you can hear him talk about these sorts of moments and experiences throughout his career as a player in many of the same terms I've used here (loss of self-consciousness, total absorption in the task, feelings of control, his skill and the challenge at hand being perfectly matched).
You don't have to do ALL of these things to experience flow, even a handful can get you there. This approach to the game can help new players and pros alike.
By moving more towards these approaches to Starcraft 2, you are likely to have more fun, rage less, and actually get better at the game faster.