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. And so video games were back in my life. My plunge into the world of stupid games was not mine alone: over the last few years, millions of people have been sucked into that vortex. As the venture capitalist John Doerr told Vanity Fair last summer, “These games are not for everyone, it’s true, but it’s for more of everyone than anything else I know.” In 2011, Rovio’s chief executive claimed that Angry Birds players were spending 200 million minutes inside the game every day — a number that seems simultaneously absurd and plausible. A number like that can’t tell us, however, about the quality of those minutes; how many of them were fun or fulfilling or even intentional.
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- Spring '11
- Monopoly, Board game, stupid games