Extra Scenario: A Casual Nightmare
The last few months have been pretty busy for me. I quit my old job, started a new one, moved to a new city, in with my long-time boyfriend and made the biggest purchase of my entire life. To be perfectly honest, I’ve matured more as an adult in the past few months than I have in the last several years. In between pulling in overtime hours and trying to find time to eat and sleep, (still no social life to be seen or heard from) I’ve been trying to work on what has become a massive backlog of games.
I re-played Mass Effect 2 so I would have a good setup for Mass Effect 3. I finished Mass Effect 3 (not completely) and moved on to Assassin’s Creed 3. I still have quite a ways to go, with Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, Resident Evil 6, Silent Hill: Book of Memories (I’m sorry Cj, I haven’t even started it yet), Dead Space 3, God of War: Ascension, and all the other games that I want to get a few more hours of play out of before I add to the ‘probably won’t touch it again ever but hell if I’m trading it in’ shelf. I’m certainly not pushing it though, because I never want my hobby to turn into more of a job than a fun past-time. But I never want my hobby to turn into something I only do between waiting for other stuff to happen.
About a week or so ago, I was sitting at work during shift change. Not a whole lot was happening. There was a debriefing and signing out, all of that fun stuff that people do when they’re leaving, so my supervisor pulled out her cell phone and handed it to me. On the puny iPhone screen were four pictures and a series of scrambled letters beneath it.
“Oh no,” I responded, like a meek partygoer refusing a toke, “I don’t play those games.” I was being honest – after all, cell phone games are not only the sign of a bored person, but limited to the realm of the forever casual gamer. And I’d moved on from the realm of the casual gamer and existed on a plane of existence higher than that. Gaming existence, anyhow. Also I technically wasn’t finished my shift, so you know…
She looked at me and sternly responded back that yes in fact, I do play this game. She’s tougher than I am so I solved the puzzle for her and handed it back. She smiled and thanked me for my brainpower and then handed it back to me again. Another word, another four pictures.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but 4 Pics 1 Word was like a gateway drug to a world of cheap, disposable time-waster games with instant gratification and terrible withdrawals.
When she left for the day, I figured that I’d seen the last of it. But I started to get a feeling as I checked my phone later that night while eating dinner. My thumbs started twitching, which in itself was not unusual, because my left thumb spazzes out all the time from years of gaming. Also probably texting. But the phone…the phone just seemed kind of boring. Vibrant and beautiful, but boring as all hell. In the last two cell phones that I’ve owned, I have never downloaded a game to them. My cell phone was for…calling? Haha, no, it was for everything else. Reading, listening to music, playing videos, organizing my life, communicating with others through every means other than vocalization, but never games. Like I said, that was for the casual gamer.
However I felt myself drawn to the Google Play Store. On the top of the Most Downloaded lists, there sat 4 Pics, 1 Word. It boasted a crazy number of downloads and I added one more to their total. It looked great on my magnificent Galaxy S3 screen, and the first few levels were easy. Before I knew it, the little number at the top of the screen indicating the level climbed higher and higher. Past 50, past 80, past 100…in the first few hours I’d completed over 100 puzzles. In fact the only reason I stopped was because my battery had died. Like phone shuts itself off died. Sleep be damned, because that sure as hell didn’t happen that night.
Every once in a while a study comes up and surprises everyone (or no one if you’ve read the results before) saying that middle-aged women make up the biggest percentage of gamers out there. Everyone laughs and points out that it’s because they play Farmville and other casual games. That those results could hardly be considered legitimate because they weren’t real gamers. I understand that bashing casuals and shovelware is so last year, but I used to do the same thing. I laughed right along with them, because I doubted that middle-aged women took up more market share than 18-24 year old males.
At the same time, I was thinking that I’d forever be gaming hardcore style with mountains of caffeinated beverages and food that probably shouldn’t be eaten by anyone, with blisters on my thumbs. The person that all the people at work look at funny and say “You’re a gamer?!” No way was I going to throw on mom jeans and start talking with my girlfriends about laundry and cooking and talking about how well the kids were doing in school while trying to fling a bird across a screen or playing some rip-off of Scrabble in the hair salon. And yet here I am…doing all of those things. Christ, I don’t even have kids! And even if I did, they…probably wouldn’t be doing all that well in school. I mean they’d be good at sports, but probably not at math.
Justin (my boyfriend) and I joke that we’ll become a stereotypical housewife and husband overnight. We laugh about it and have a good time, but this…this isn’t funny! With one little game I’d become another statistic for all the real gamers to scoff at while they sit around the fireplace in the living room of their higher plane of gaming existence! Poof! Just like that!
It’s easy to see why casual games are so popular. They have features even the best consoles don’t have. So long as you have a smartphone, you can carry them anywhere. So long as you have five minutes of spare time, you can play a few rounds. No setup is required, no hours of time needed to actually feel like you’ve accomplished something. You don’t even need to be particularly good at gaming to be amazing at Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. A good percentage of games in any app store are free, or fremium games, requiring no real investment at all. If they do cost money, it’s at most a few dollars? Final Fantasy games still fetch a steep price, but can you really group Final Fantasy games in with the rest of the casual bunch?
After four days of binge-casual gaming, I attempted to return to double-assassinating Redcoats in AC3, but I just couldn’t. I was met with instant failure with something I used to be so good at. I wanted to go back to being great at tapping stuff on a tiny screen and feel like I was a game master. However I kept at it, and I finally went back to using my phone for what it was meant to be used for. Facebooking. I’d beaten the scourge, I’d climbed back up on the hardcore wagon and it really wasn’t so bad. I thought Yeah, I did it! Everyone could play the happy song at the end of Intervention and credits would roll about my success.
Then came Jetpack Joyride…there went several more hours that could have been better spent schmoozing it up with Garrus. Or at least sleeping, so I could have gamed later. But no…no, casual games don’t work that way. They draw you in, innocently enough but then steal hours of your time away and slowly sucking away your battery life and your life. Until you’re a shell of the gamer you used to be, stealing away into the bathrooms at work for a few fleeting moments not to play the latest Vita title, but to get in a few more bird flings and fruit dissections in.
So at least I can say that I haven’t actually spent real money on these things. That I’ve kept my splurging to free casual games. It’s probably why I’ll forever be stuck at level 259 on 4 Pics, 1 Word.
Despite the appearance that casual games are taking over the market as a whole, they actually only account for 10% of the gaming industry’s $50 billion. That could be because the casual games cost a tiny fraction of what a fully fledged retail release costs. It could also be because not everyone games on their phone, or at least pays to game on their phone. Or it could be that we just really, really like to spend money on big name games.
So what about you? Do you casually game? What kind of games do you have installed on your phone? Have any good horror-based games you could recommend? So I could at least…you know, try to make it seem like nothing is wrong? Because now that I’ve figured out that puzzle up there, there’s no stopping it now.
Except the battery dying again.