But Peggle has become something more than a simple afternoon time-waster. Like Blizzard, PopCap seems to have hit upon some insidious secret ingredient that keeps players coming back for more. For games like Diablo 2 and WoW, that ingredient is a combination of years of polish, countless iterations and incremental improvements. For Peggle, it's the result of stripping away nearly everything that doesn't deliver an immediate endorphin rush to the player every time he clicks his mouse. That creates an interesting question: Does the remainder actually constitute a good game?
That question has become more urgent with the recent release of Peggle Nights, the follow up to the 2007 hit. My review is forthcoming, but I'll spare you some of the suspense: It's more Peggle. Which is, sadly, all that it needs to be to completely consume me.
Caught in the midst of another afternoon Peggle bender, I knew all the reasons why I had been sucked into the game. But teaching a heroin user about neurotransmitters and the blood-brain barrier isn't going to stop him from getting his next fix. The developers themselves have admitted there's sound psychology behind their design decisions, like tones that subtly rise in pitch the more pegs you hit in a single combo.
There's (presumably) sound psychology involving the game as well. Last year, East Carolina University conducted a study on the effects of playing PopCap games on short-term mood and stress levels. Researchers concluded that Peggle improved the average test subject's mood by 573 percent, reduced anger by 63 percent and reduced confusion by a whopping 486 percent - not bad for a game involving unicorns, space aliens and skateboarding gophers! (These findings are mitigated somewhat by the fact that PopCap funded the study, however.)
My officemate and fellow Peggle fiend, Susan Arendt, participated in the study, and continues to carry out her own informal research in the few moments each day when she has some downtime. The not-so-shocking conclusion? Peggle makes you feel good.
Maybe my brain has an unusual abundance of Peggle receptors. Or maybe, as my coworkers have suggested, I exist in a perpetual state of anger and confusion with Peggle as my only lifeline. Whatever the case, I'm content for now to stop wondering if Peggle is a good game and accept the fact that, like an ice cream cone, a phone call from a friend or a trip to the beach, it's simply good ... just not at four in the morning.
Jordan Deam reduced his confusion level by more than 4,374 percent while preparing to write this piece. Unfortunately, he still can't remember where he put his wallet.