Jeff I know you’ve probably done some research on the topic since your life is essentially raids in WoW broken up by papers that you write about it, but I wanted to explore the idea of tedium as a desirable thing. I’m at least temporarily focusing on video games because it’s a sphere that I’m rather familiar with, but to clarify, I am actually interested in tedium beyond just “grinding”, say for experience points or items/equipment in a game like WoW.

I know Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model gets bandied about constantly, and increasing so in games, but I think it’s flawed or at least inadequate. The general gist of the model is this: on an X/Y graph we map skill and challenge. If the activity is too easy or too hard, it gets in the way of the user and they either get bored or frustrated.

Flow model

However, I propose that there is a either a separate space or an additional “flow channel” in the ‘boredom’ section where irrespective of skill, people enjoy doing tedious tasks and can even be completely enthralled by them. There may even be a similar space in the ‘anxiety’ section where people are “winging it” or seeking thrills beyond their abilities for that crazy rush. I’m certain that I’m not the only one that has some kind of tedious activity they enjoy that is neither difficult nor engaging in the conventional sense, but is cathartic because we can tune out. For me that’s filling out spreadsheets, or fishing mini-games within larger games (though I’m not fond of fishing games in themselves). There’s an entire booming industry in Germany that relies on people reading absolutely endless pages of manuals in order to properly learn how to a drive a snow plow or a train. That’s it, their objective is literally to simulate the experience of driving a bus or train route… and they love it! There’s some hilarious simulator videos on YouTube where people play the games in ways they were clearly not designed for, but that’s not really the point.

If you think this idea is silly, it can be expanded to an activity like knitting, which many people do to relieve stress, often while watching TV or doing something else. I don’t consider knitting an activity that for most people is at the forefront of their cognitive processes, and in a way is a repetitious and somewhat tedious task.

I’m not sure where to start beyond looking at papers by Csikszentmihalyi himself currently, but it’s definitely a space I’m interested in. I’ve heard a number of people corroborate that they do have similar activities they enjoy.

I think with design there’s a tendency to look for delightful, or novel or deeply immersive activities, hell even just easy-to-use experiences. I don’t know how much research has been done on having intentionally frustrating (well not easy at least) or tedious activities built into the design, but I think there has to be a word or concept that encompasses “boring”, “engaging” and “relaxing” into one idea. Maybe the Germans have got one.