Sunday, April 08, 2012

Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games’ -

As for my nightmare vision of a world splintered by addiction to stupid games, Lantz had a different perspective. He said that he liked to think Drop7 was not only addictive but also, on some level, about addiction. Games, he told me, are like “homebrew neuroscience” — “a little digital drug you can use to run experiments on your own brain.” Part of the point of letting them seduce you, as Lantz sees it, is to come out the other side a more interesting and self-aware person; more conscious of your habits, weaknesses, desires and strengths. “It’s like heroin that is abstracted or compressed or stylized,” he said. “It gives you a window into your brain that doesn’t crush your brain.”

I tried to think about what — if anything — I had learned from this window into my brain. Like their spiritual forefather, Tetris, most stupid games are about walls: building them, scaling them, knocking them down. Walls made of numbers, walls made of digital bricks, walls with green pigs hiding behind them. They’re like miniature boot camps of containment. Ultimately, I realized, these games are also about a more subtle and mysterious form of wall-building: the internal walls we build to compartmentalize our time, our attention, our lives. The legendary game designer Sid Meier once defined a game as, simply, “a series of interesting choices.” Maybe that’s the secret genius of stupid games: they force us to make a series of interesting choices about what matters, moment to moment, in our lives.