As the casual genre grows larger with each passing year, I’ve come to develop a certain distaste and at the same time respect for most of the games in the genre. Some attempts at capturing the market are just lazy “me too” games that do nothing more than poisoning the well, but I’m talking about the good games under the casual umbrella.
To get into specifics, I’m gonna be talking about games such as Angry Birds, Peggle, Plants vs Zombies, Bejeweled, Zuma, Canabalt, Pong* and many others I can’t recall at the moment. I respect these games because I can clearly see why they are/were successful, what was their respective designer’s intent and above all else, what kind of person would play games like this. Namely: Everyone. That is, everyone but people like me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked most of these games at one point or another, but with repeated playthroughs I grew increasingly dissatisfied. They’re all great for what they are, but I can’t shake the feeling that they don’t satiate my hunger for play. They seem to avoid all of the core reasons why I play games in the first place.
I always thought I knew why I don’t like these games. They throw out rewards like candy for accomplishments such as “choosing the right angle to throw something”. It’s cheap. It’s meaningless. It’s crass. They have absolutely no soul to speak of. They don’t have anything to say other than “You’re awesome!”.
But you know what? That’s not what bothers me. Hell, Mario fits that criteria almost perfectly and that has never bothered me in the slightest.
It’s only recently that it dawned on me the real reason: All of these games at the very least have limited input and at the very worst don’t require a player in the first place. They play themselves.
And that’s incredibly frustrating to me.
I can’t help but feel that I should be more in control of what’s happening in the screen. I want to be able to do more, I want to be able to do what I can in other very similar games. I want to be able to guide my birds mid-flight, I want to tell the game to throw the ball with a specific amount of force, I want to tell my plants when to start firing, I want to move my jewels around even if they don’t create a match, I want to move around the board, I want to decelerate at will and finally I want to move around horizontally as well.
I feel that the limited input is restraining my freedom of expression.
In retrospect I realize that this is obvious, but it bears to be stated: These games were not made for people like me. But then, what is the audience of these games exactly? My guess is that they don’t want to control too many things at once. These people are content to have minimal input, even if that means that the game practically plays itself.
In other words, these people have not played many games and/or have no interest in them as anything other than a time-killing diversion.
Simple games with simple control-schemes, simple to explore mechanics with simple options and simple strategies. Basically, shallow gameplay.
It feels great to finally realize why I don’t like these games.
But there’s one particularly popular game that is still stuck in my mind: Bejeweled.
It’s restrictions are so astounding that I can’t help but feel like the designers had a very specific audience in mind. An audience that doesn’t like choice, because they get flustered and start feeling as if they’re playing the game wrong. These people are happy to be given the least amount of options possible, even if there’s absolutely no challenge to the decisions they’re left with. Everything they might choose is a correct answer. Everything is a positive feedback loop. The game literally plays itself, it just waits for some player input to continue.
I suppose it’s harmless, but I can’t help to feel a very creepy vibe from that game.
*Pong is going to be an exception to most generalizations I make in this post, but I feel like that’s a product of its age more than of its design.