I ride the subway a lot, and being the super nosey individual I am, I can’t help but peek at the screens of other passenger’s phones or tablets while I’m waiting to reach my destination. I feel safe in saying that 7/10 people I’m creeping on are playing games. Taking into account that being underground prevents people from texting and using the internet, it stands to reason that mobile games are about the only thing you can really do on your phone outside of watching a movie, so it makes sense that a good chunk of them are happily tapping away at coloured orbs.
Ok, so everyone from businessmen to soccer moms are getting into gaming. That’s pretty cool right? We’re finally able to show outsiders why we’re so passionate about our videogames.
Until you see that they’re playing Candy Crush, Flappy Bird, or any of the million and one other mobile games that require no thought to play, have no narrative, and gameplay so simple and repetitive a monkey could play it.
Why would this make me angry? Why do I care what other people are doing on their phones in their spare time? Why should I care that they’re pumping hour after hour into a game where the entire purpose is to tap the screen enough times to access the next incredibly similar yet slightly different looking level?
Because, I’ve spent years trying to legitimize my hobby and passion in the eyes people who assume The Last of Us is just a shinier, more expensive version of Tetris. Thanks to the surging popularity of mobile gaming, all my hard work has apparently been for naught. It doesn’t matter to them if a masterpiece of interactive storytelling is changing the face of what we know as entertainment, in an industry that has seen an incredible amount of growth and maturity over the last three decades. All they want to do is swipe a screen over and over again to get to the next “level”, which is the exact same as all the others but with a different coat of paint. Andre Braugher’s character in the legitimately hilarious cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine sums up my thoughts perfectly during an episode where he gets addicted to Kwazy Kupcakes, a riff on the aforementioned and ultra-popular Candy Crush: “I’m just about to enter Sprinkle City… They break the game into these idiotic worlds to give you some sense of progress.”
Now before you get all riled up and say “Most games we played as kids did exactly this!” Fine, fair point, but that was the 80s and videogames were nowhere near the cultural phenomenon they are now. Not to mention the technology, writing, art direction etc… are light years ahead of what we had back then. Games, like film, have evolved a lot over the last few decades. Let it also be noted that this new format is not an homage or retro in any good way. These developers have taken everything that sucked about that era of games, and everything sleazy and cheap, and boiled it down into addictive, soulless trash that costs nothing to produce and makes tons of money. This is on top of the fact that they are clearly ripping off the likes of Dr. Mario, Tetris, and Bust a Move while tricking people into thinking they were original and innovative gameplay mechanics. Yet people are purchasing these games in crazy numbers.
Which leads me to my next point. I’m not naïve about how capitalism works. When it comes to the money I completely understand this business model. I also understand why bulldozing endangered forests is financially viable, it doesn’t mean I agree with it.
Yes, I just compared Candy Crush to the destruction of a protected environment, but that’s just how angry it makes me. I see this a lot with older people especially, the ones that didn’t grow up with videogames and don’t know what they’re missing. All those times as a child when my mother would yell at me to put down the Nintendo controller and play outside seem like a false memory when I see her face glued to the iPad playing some slot machine simulator.
This is all subjective of course. I completely understand that saying these things makes me come off like the stereotypical nerd condescendingly telling someone that their version of fun is somehow less sophisticated than mine and therefore a waste of time. Musicians do it, film snobs do it, and most of the time the person on the receiving end can reply with a simple “Piss off, I’m having fun. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. It’s not hurting you in any way.”
Well, yeah, it kind of is. Every dollar spend on a crappy mobile game proliferates the business model, making it a much more lucrative venture for investors and capitalists whose money may have gone to supporting a burgeoning indie studio pouring their heart and hard work into project they’re passionate about. Instead of a Journey we get a Jelly Splash, complete with annoying and unwanted Facebook connection requests. So if you’re an investor with a big chunk of cash looking for nice returns, and don’t care about the culture of videogames at all, who are you going to give your money too? The guys working night and day on a passion project that only appeals to “hardcore” gamers and requires months and months of 12-hour workdays? Or the studio cranking out five different versions of the same game that can be publishable and ready to go in a week? More people playing= more money to the companies developing those games.
I suppose it’s not all doom and gloom though. With such a huge number of users and developers focusing on this market, the mobile gaming industry can’t be entirely cancerous. There are certainly some gems out there: Take-Two’s gorgeous and immersive first-person-shooter Bioshock is now available on the iPad, and thanks to the hard work of modders and programmers there is a plethora of emulators for classic consoles. Super Metroid on my phone? Sign me up! But these hardly compare to the number of people playing Candy Crush and Slotmania.
I may just be a jaded nerd getting up in arms because other people are enjoying versions of my hobby that I consider inferior, and even that statement comes off sounding pretentious as hell. I stick by my argument though, if this trend continues to suck money away from the development of immersive and engaging games both developers and gamers will continue to suffer. So, I will continue to sit on my digital high horse and condemn the plebs for their simple taste. I think I’ve earned the right.