Ascension is my zen game. I’ve played it almost daily since I first got it on my iPad in 2011 and I’ve bought every expansion and promo set as they came out since. I know the game well enough at this point that playing it is close to automatic for me. I play it in bed before I go to sleep most nights, as the act of playing is almost meditative, and helps me switch off and get ready for sleep.
How I play Ascension is a mode of play I like to think of as “processing”. It’s something like how most people play Solitaire, and it’s almost the inverse of the idea of Flow, because it involves no challenge at all, just a mechanical following of a well-understood procedure. It’s what MDA calls a gameplay aesthetic of submission, a sublimating of mind to the task of processing game actions, and it frees other parts of the mind to think about other things. This is a mode of play I think deserves a lot more attention, because it covers how a lot of people play a lot of different kinds of games, from questing in WoW to routine cargo runs in Elite: Dangerous, to those tappy farming games. Not every game needs to engage the player in active, “immersive” interaction. Some games can, as Ascension does for me, just let the mind be.