Guilty Pleasures


imageCarolyn Koh submitted this article to The Escapist.

I’m a freelance writer. I write about the latest and greatest in upcoming MMOGs and PC hardware. It came about from my gaming, starting with lost weekends of D&D and was nurtured by my love of online multiplayer games. But in the wee hours of the night, when I’m done with my group, when I’m done with raiding, I play Bejeweled2. My name is Carolyn, and I’m a closet Casual Gamer.

I meticulously planned my last computer build. I did my research, read reviews and carefully specced every component. After weeks of debating AMD vs. Intel, nVidia vs. ATI, I bought a dual-core AMD chip, two nVidia 7900 video cards for SLI configuration, 2 gigs of high-performance DDR2-800 RAM with 4-3-4-10 timing, two new SATA hard-drives to be configured in RAID 0, and a new 1200 DPI gaming mouse – all the best components I could get that didn’t also cost an arm and a leg.

I could play the latest MMOGs at the highest performance without a hiccup. No hesitation in raids, no need to turn off any features that might bog down performance. I bragged about my rig on my guild boards basked in the glory of envious as well as congratulatory comments.

But after all that, I turn down the sound, close the door, open my web browser to MSN’s Game Zone and fire up Bejeweled2. I will break half a million points in timed play or quit after midnight, whichever comes first. I have that little bit of discipline left, if nothing else.

The woosh of the game loading up welcomes me like an old friend. I select the Action Game and ready my mouse, as the gems drop in place with wooden clicks. “Go,” announces the deep, robotic male voice.

During the first level, the timer moves slowly. I take my time, my eyes darting over the board, trying to set up combinations of five in a row. Power Gems and Hyper Cubes will carry over the next level, and I try to create as many as possible. A move creates a lucky chain reaction: “Level Complete,” intones that hollow metallic voice. Curses! Only 7,200 points. I’ll have to do better if I want to break 500,000.

The game is simple. On a board of 8 by 8 squares, four different shapes or gems – each with their own unique color – fills from the top. You have a designated time to match the colored jewels in lines of three, horizontally or vertically, to clear them from the board. This is done by clicking and swapping adjacent gems. Once they are cleared, more jewels drop in to fill the void. Lines of four jewels are awarded with a Power Gem, and lines of five awarded with the more valuable Hyper Cube.

When the Power Gem is lined up with three or more of its kind, it blows up – literally explodes. And when it does, it takes adjacent pieces with it. The Hyper Cube, a swirling ball of light, will take out the rest of that color gem on the board in a shower of lightning strikes, when swapped with an adjacent gem. I love that one; I always save it until I fill the board with a color I intend to swap it out with. It can also save a game when you are down to a few seconds on the timer.

Each action garners points and fills up the timer, which slowly dwindles down. Fill up the bar completely, and you complete a level, earning a new game board along with unused special gems from the last level. In the Action game, you never encounter a scenario where you run out of moves. So somewhere on that board, with the timer bar rapidly diminishing, when the klaxon starts sounding to inform you that you only have seconds left on your timer, there is at least one option. You could get a hint, but that takes 1,000 points away from your score. I don’t do hints, even though they could well be part of a player’s strategy. I pride myself on gaining those high scores by myself.

As the game advances, it’s not good enough to just match three. You’ll run out of time waiting for the voids to be filled. You have to make cascades – chain reactions where more matches are made when gems drop in to fill the voids on the board. Match up the Power Gems so they clear more pieces for more options. Create a Hyper Cube so you can blast out all pieces of one color on the board.

The brightly colored gems shimmer as I run my mouse over them. They disappear with a satisfying chime when I line up three in a row, heightening in pitch and volume during a chain reaction. Another sounds when I make a row of four and generate a sparkling Power Gem. The best is when I swap out the Hyper Cube. Lighting flashes out at the climax, and each gem shatters with a satisfying crash.

Twenty minutes later, I’ve scored 826,790 points. The rest of my game stats do not matter. Not the number of special gems I created or the longest number of cascades, just the score.

Once in, you just can’t stop. Nothing holds me quite like it. Not Bookworm or Mahjong. It’s Bejeweled2 or nothing.

The grip Bejeweled2 has on me is in its reward system. I line up three gems in a row. I am rewarded by their disappearance from the screen. I am pleased. I set it up right, and three or more gems line up in a row as the remainder fall in to fill the void. More pleasure. Then there’s the congratulatory robotic voice. “Good!” It tells my eager senses. “Excellent! Incredible!”

Every night, after I camp from the MMOG du soir, I sneak online to satisfy my addiction to a casual game. I’ll break a million points, one of these evenings. Behind closed doors. Where no one can see me or hear me.

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