I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a hardcore gamer. Have been all my life. In my house, we have every current console and hundreds of games for them. We have two TVs, actually, so my wife and I can play games at the same time. We have two copies of Dragon Age, and most of the other big games. I also have a gaming PC that I upgraded myself. Next to it, on the floor, is another gaming PC that I built from scratch. I’ve played every gaming console ever made, and have been gaming on PCs since PCs had games. In other words, when the game industry talks about “the core,” they’re talking about me.
So what am I playing right now? Two games, actually. One of them is Dragon Age 2. With my long work hours I’ve only been able to play on weekends, so I’m only about 70 or so hours into it. RPGs like Dragon Age are meant to be savored, so I don’t want to just jump in for an hour after work. I want to be able to swim in it. After I’ve finished the game I’ll probably play it again. Maybe twice. I look forward to the day when I can write about my experiences in the game without fear of “spoiling” someone else’s experience. It really has captivated me.
So what’s the other game? Angry Birds.
I’ve been upgrading my workstation PC here at the office and installing some new programs. This can be maddening, especially when you’re used to always doing nine things at once, like I am. Sitting and watching a progress bar and being unable to touch the computer until it has finished very nearly gives me an aneurysm.
So, one day, I turned to my iPhone for relief. After checking my mail and Twitter feeds I had exhausted the capacity of the device to aid me in my work, so I decided to play a game with it. I decided to try the game I’d heard so much about. I downloaded Angry Birds and, expecting to sneer at it, gave it a go.
An hour later, I noticed my computer was ready for me, but I wasn’t yet ready for it. Angry Birds had hooked me. That night, on the way to my car, I pulled out my iPhone and started playing again. I stood there, still, in the middle of the parking lot, playing Angry Birds for 15 minutes. Office mates passed by on their way home. They waved, I barely noticed.
From that day on, whenever I hit a slow patch at work, or had to install a new program, out came the Angry Birds. It is, what we hardcore gamers call with a derogatory sneer, a “casual” game. It is easy to play; just poke the angry bird with your finger and send him slingshotting into various constructions and – hopefully – into the naughty, egg-stealing pigs. Break the pig fortress, kill the pigs, move on. Each level can take seconds or minutes, depending on the intricacy of the pigs’ constructions and the strategies you employ to destroy them. It’s Armadillo Run with violence and it’s awesome. Simple, but engaging. Easy to learn, difficult to master and once you’ve started playing it’s incredibly hard to stop. This is what makes for a compelling casual game. And, when you think about it, what makes any game compelling from Chess to WoW.
Several days after I discovered Angry Birds, I hit rock bottom. I was on my way to bed. I grabbed a book, as I always do, to help lull my mind into slumber. Scientists now believe that over-exposure to phosphorescent screens may have a deleterious effect on our circadian rhythms. By shining the bright, white light of a computer monitor, television or cell phone into our own eyes, we may be, in other words, convincing our lizard brains that it’s still daytime and damaging our ability to sleep. So I try to make a habit of walking away from the electronics an hour or so before bed and settling in to read.
On this night, however, as I grabbed my book (a title called Cold Warrior, about the secret files of a CIA spy hunter – highly recommended) my knuckles brushed past my iPhone and, in a flash, my mind filled with images of angry, angry birds. Two hours later, my normal bedtime long forgotten, I propelled the last, tiny, angry bird into a fortress of pigs, clearing the final level and beating that damn game. I awoke as if from a dream, glanced at the clock and despaired.
Make no mistake, my friends, there is a revolution brewing. There are games that take 300 workers, millions of dollars and half a decade to build. There are some that can be constructed in a weekend by passionate amateurs. There are some that fall somewhere in-between. People who have never touched a two-hand controller may call you and me “hardcore,” and we, in turn, may call them “casual,” but at the end of the day we are all gamers. Whether we are PC gamers, console gamers, browser or smartphone gamers, the one thing on which we can all agree is that playing games is damn fun, and sometimes, when you least expect it, the fun comes at you sideways. Like it did for me, when I discovered Angry Birds. Be open to it.