Fun or Addicting?

I’ve never been big on mobile gaming. When it comes to games, I always prefer to play on a big screen over a small one. This is also why I don’t enjoy handhelds. Even in situations where big screens are not available – say, while commuting to work – I prefer to read a book, listen to a podcast, or just look out the window and give my eyes a break from screens altogether. This isn’t to say that I never play mobile games. There are a few that got me quite hooked for a while. The problem is, they hooked me for the wrong reasons.

The first was Spirit Stones, a dungeon-crawly puzzler with colour-matching gameplay similar to Candy Crush and an added card evolution mechanic. The gameplay wasn’t particularly interesting, and any challenge seemed to be there to make you buy gems, but I really wanted to evolve all the cards to collect them all. I even spent a few bucks to buy gold so I could evolve more cards. It took me a while, a couple of months maybe, before I realized – Spirit Stones is not a fun game. It is an addicting game. All the dungeon levels are basically the same. 99% of the card evolutions give you trash that isn’t an upgrade over what you’re already using. It has the time (or money) based component that limits your play which is common among Free To Play games. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed of all the time I spent playing this game on my phone while watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix. A terrible game and a repugnant tv show, there must have been some self-loathing going on there. Eventually I stopped, deleted it from my phone, and never played again. Nothing about the game was fun, it just had constantly moving goalposts that kept me playing.

Spirit Stones

Yeah, don’t even get me started on the artwork.

Next came Cook, Serve, Delicious, a restaurant sim. While I’d rate this game 100x higher than Spirit Stones and it lacked insidious micro-transactions, it was still more addicting than fun. In game I’d do day after day of food service, trying to get my restaurant up to 5 stars (by now I had moved on to Gilmore Girls for my fix of TV I didn’t really need to pay attention to). The time management component of the game was challenging, and at first I actually was having fun. But once I was familiar with everything, I had my staple foods I’d rotate on the menu every day that I could prepare the fastest, and it became rather mechanical. What was interesting on day 6 was really just a chore on day 62 but I wanted that 5-star ranking. Eventually I got it, only to find out the game wasn’t done with me. More challenges lay in wait! By this time I had figured that the game was more addicting than fun though, so I took my 5 stars as an indication that I had beaten the game, deleted from my phone, and never played again.

The last game that got me in its clutches was Trivia Crack, and I think that name speaks for itself. While I’m actually a big fan of trivia, playing against strangers on my phone isn’t really comparable to trivia nights at a bar, or Trivial Pursuit in my living room with friends. Again, it was fun at first, but 2 weeks later when I had 10 different games on the go (or how ever many the time/money limit would allow me to have) and was checking to see if it was my turn every 10 minutes, I realized the compulsion to constantly check the game status was much stronger than the reward of getting to answer one or two questions (and then waiting for my turn again). So it too got deleted.

Now, I’m not saying that all mobile games are like this, or that only mobile games fall can into the addicting not fun category. I do think mobile caters to this type of game more than other platforms, but they can be found anywhere. In my 8 years of playing World of Warcraft I know at least a quarter of my time (more than that in the lulls before expansions) was spent doing things I found the opposite of fun just to get some dumb achievement. My blood still boils when I think about the 6 hours I spent collecting Noblegarden eggs to get some stupid fucking mount or something I probably never looked at again once I got it. This wasn’t fun at all, I was just addicted to collecting.

There are too many good games out there to spend time on ones that hook you with collecting or variable-interval incremental reinforcement rather than fun gameplay or story. I’m trying to make an effort to spend time on games I actually find fun, or meaningful, or thought-provoking because with such a huge selection of games available, why waste time on the junk?

4 responses to “Fun or Addicting?

  1. I know what you mean. Other media can be guilty pleasures, but they don’t typically overtake a life the way a game can.

    I try to avoid that type of content at all costs. At various times in my life, my drive toward escapism and my sucsecptibility to addiction have been quite strong. I feel the best solution to my weak will is to avoid testing it!
    Murf recently posted..Today, my valentine is MMO Gypsy.

    • For me there’s a pretty big distinction between games and other media. I have zero problem watching multiple seasons of TV shows I consider terrible on Netflix, but my tolerance for bad games is much lower. Maybe it’s because while I’m watching those bad guilty pleasure shows I’m usually doing something else – talking on Twitter, jotting down blog post ideas, or falling asleep. Also, I think you’re right, they don’t take over your life like some of those addicting games can.

  2. I had this problem with Sronghold: Kingdoms. It’s one of those things that you start out thinking cool, I’ll just log in once or twice a day to assign orders and stuff…and then you find yourself scheduling your time around build completion, or setting alarms so you can optimise your resources.

    I’m also finding your examples to be true with some of the ported-from-mobile games in my Steam library. As much as I tried to fiddle with short play sessions or definite goals per session, games like Jack Lumber, or iBomber Defence, or Snuggle Truck just weren’t fun after the first couple of levels. Being completionist with those kinds of games is just stupid for me, when I have so many other options available that are more fulfilling.
    Dahakha recently posted..Steam Challenge – TRAUMA

    • For me a big indicator of a mobile game’s quality is – would I play it on PC or console? And most of the time the answer is no. It’s one thing to play it on the bus, when your options are limited, but if I was at home with my consoles and my PC I would never choose to play this game over one of my many other options. I also have a few ports and I shut them down pretty much as soon as I realize they are a port. It also kind of boggles my mind that a company would port a mobile game to PC in the first place.