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.
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?