Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing Stupid Games?
Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Draw Something, Words With Friends: All these games are available right at your fingertips, wherever a smart phone, tablet or similar device is available. Are you addicted? When are you most likely to play games like this? Do you think they’re a waste of time — or do you see some value in them?
In the Sunday magazine, Sam Anderson writes about his own experiences with what he calls “stupid” games — games that you play “incidentally, ambivalently, compulsively, almost accidentally”:
I resisted buying an iPhone for what felt like several decades (it was, in biological Earth time, four years), because I was afraid of the power of its games. I spent my formative years becoming fluent in, and addicted to, the video games of the ’80s and early ’90s — the industry-redefining stretch from roughly Mario Brothers to Mortal Kombat. You could say that video games and I went through adolescence together. As I shed my exoskeleton of fat, Nintendo’s blocky pixels started to fuse into sleek 64-bit curves; as my voice lowered, video games’ plinky soundtracks matured into little symphonies; as my social circle expanded beyond my little clutch of sweaty and foulmouthed friends, the market for video games expanded into (or at least toward) similarly new demographics: adults, girls.
…Then, midway through the dark forest of my adult life, the iPhone came out. This presented a unique problem. It was not only a phone and a camera and a compass and a map and a tiny window through which to see the entire Internet — it was also a pocket-size game console three times as sophisticated as anything I grew up with. My wife, who had never been a serious gamer, got one and became addicted, almost immediately, to a form of off-brand digital Scrabble called Words With Friends. Before long she was playing 6 or 10 games at a time, against people all over the world. Sometimes I would lose her in the middle of a conversation: her phone would go brinnng or pwomp or dernalernadern-dern, and she would look away from me, midsentence, to see if her opponent had set her up for a triple word score. I tried to stay good-humored. I told her I was going to invent something called the iPaddle: a little screen-size wooden paddle that I would slide in front of her phone whenever she drifted away, on the back of which, upside-down so she could read them, would be inscribed humanist messages from the analog world: “I love you” or “Be here now.”
Inevitably, my high-minded detachment didn’t last long. About a year ago, unable to resist the rising cultural tide and wanting (I convinced myself) a camera with which to take pictures of my children, I gave in and bought an iPhone. For a while I used it only to read, to e-mail and to take pictures. Then I downloaded chess, which seemed wholesome enough — the PBS of time-wasters. But chess turned out to be a gateway game. Once I formed the habit of finding reliable game joy in my omnipresent pocket-window, my inner 13-year-old reasserted himself. I downloaded horribly titled games like Bix (in which you steer a dot in a box between other dots in a box) and MiZoo (in which you make patterns out of exotic cartoon animal heads). These led to better, more time-consuming games — Orbital, Bejeweled, Touch Physics, Anodia — which led to even better games: Peggle, Little Wings. One tiny masterpiece, Plants vs. Zombies, ate up, I’m going to guess, a full “Anna Karenina” of my leisure time. One day while I was playing it (I think I had just discovered that if you set up your garlic and your money-flowers exactly right, you could sit there racking up coins all day), my wife reminded me of my old joke about the iPaddle. This made me inexplicably angry.
Students: Tell us about the games that have taken up your time. Have they ever had a “scary power” over you? When do you tend to play them most? What do they do for you? To what extent do you agree with Jane McGonigal, who argues games aren’t an escape from reality but an optimal form of engaging it? What do you think of what Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, said recently about how game mechanics “will be the most valuable skill in the new economy”? Do you ever want to stop playing? What do you think you might do with the time instead?
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