Trouble Thinking

September 30, 2011

Addictiveness Will Kill Games

So hey! Gaming! Oh man, isn’t it cool how everyone basically plays games now? Even Grandma knows the Book of a Thousand Faces has some jingly-jangly things on it you can entertain yourself with. It’s like your hobby has “gone viral” or “mainstream” or “maybe now people will listen to my Starcraft stories”.

And it’s really a good thing. I’m a fan of it! It’s a form of entertainment with a lot to give and not enough people treated it seriously. If only 5% of the population watched films, we’d be poorer for it. So yes! Everyone should get their hands on a game and give it a shot. And, also, I’d love it if each and every game they tried playing weren’t a payload specifically designed to destroy their life and finances, finally leeching the calcium from their bones and rolling back, bloated with the life-force of what used to be a human being, to sinister men who make their beds in the acute angles of reality.

There is a focus, unambiguous and unashamed, on making games “addictive”. It’s used as metaphor, a buzzword because hahaha games aren’t a real drug wiiiiink get it we just mean make it like it’s a horrible destructive worthless thing designed to promote self-harm. And to an extent, that’s true. Chemical addiction hits harder and more often. But that doesn’t mean that non-physical addictions don’t exist. Ask someone who lost their kid’s college fund gambling if they felt fully cognizant at the time. The point is, as terribly fearmongering as “mom leaves kid in car to play WoW” and the like are, it’s fundamentally a bad thing to be focused more on exploiting customers via addiction than producing a fine product.

And that’s where we are. Zynga is a success. It’s not the devil, no. Their shitty facebook games aren’t hurting people. But then, they aren’t supposed to. They’re supposed to exploit well-studied psychological triggers in order to transfer money from people to Zynga.

Other people have followed eagerly, including major established developers. The actual game has been identified as a barely-necessary middleman, something to be created in as spare a manner as possible, in order that people get hooked on the transference of money out of their pockets. Many modern game developers have stated implicitly that they would be delighted if they could simply avoid the messy business of actually crafting a game, and get on with tapping into the spines of unwary consumers. If “Dragon Age Legends” sold more copies than Dragon Age 2, you’d never see a full game from EA again.

Yes, it’s nice that people are playing games, and it’s nice that games are breaking into previously untapped demographics. Yay for a broader culture, maybe we’ll all learn something.

But for fucks sake, people playing Farmville shouldn’t be playing that when something like Anno 1404 is on the market. I know I know, it isn’t browser based, it’s not free, there’s a learning curve… all valid issues. But the thing is they shouldn’t be playing something more substantial in order to receive some sort of cultural cachet from me. They should be playing something more substantial because at least the people who created that tried to give them something. It’s not the difference between seeing Rashomon and seeing Transformers so much as it is the difference between seeing Rashomon and getting shanked in the ankle.

The people making these shit little money-sinks do not like you. Yes, you can still find their products fun. But that is an accident, one they hope to correct in the future.

God damn I hope no one paid $99 for that fucking Dragon Age Facebook game.

Here’s an interesting piece from an industry insider that spurred this post to a large extent. He does get a little bit wanky and verbose, so feel free to skip everything after the first page.

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