A strange thing has been happening around my workplace: people are playing video games during their free time. Not just the usual two or three of us who bring our DS to work, but everyone seems to be hunched over their phones and computer screens, clicking or swiping away at little stacks of sweets. That’s right folks, Candy Crush fever is at full pandemic levels in our building, and there is no cure in sight (save for upset bosses).
For those who are unfamiliar with Candy Crush Saga (CCS), allow me to brief you on the game. Available as a mobile or Facebook game, CCS is a match-three puzzle title in which a player must clear certain pieces of candy from the screen in a set number of moves. Combos greater than three and chain-moves will provide the player with special candy, which may be used to clear the board more easily, and failing to destroy the target pieces will result in a game over, and the loss of a coin. This is where the game becomes diabolical.
In a given day, each player is given X coins which translate as chances to complete a level. Once the coins are expended, the only way to gain more chances is through the spending of actual money. Like so many free-to-play games before it, Candy Crush makes its money through the unfortunate souls who spend their hard-earned income to buy more coins, and, in essence, pay to keep playing the game.
This is exactly the sort of scheme that many of us “real gamers” will proudly (and loudly) defame, citing that these so-called-games ruin the medium as a whole. With even one listener, we will ramble about a dystopian future where all video games are money traps. All of these casual games are passing fads that have overstayed their welcome, and we scoff at those who play Angry Birds or Words with Friends when they are waiting in line at an overpriced coffee shop. Don’t these people know that the games that are actually fun and worthwhile only exist on consoles and computers?
At an earlier time, I would have taken up the torch right alongside my brethren and blindly marched on these lost souls, ready to push my gaming preferences on each of them. Then it dawned on me: I am living in a time where nearly everyone plays video games. The advent of mobile games and the emphasis on a casual market have brought so many people into the fold, and that effect continues to this day. I have overheard complete strangers telling stories of playing with their relatives over the iPhone. I have watched kids roam around in Minecraft on a tablet at the airport. I witnessed my own mother, who never touched a controller in her life, toss a virtual bowling ball down the lane, score a strike, and trash talk my brother in the process.
When this realization first hit me, I felt pure revulsion. Here was my hobby, being pulled right out from under me by people who didn’t even seem to care about video games. I spent so much of my life being picked on and looked over for being an “inside kid” who played too many video games to have a proper social life. Suddenly, every department store was selling cheap retro gaming t-shirts and belt buckles, fake geeks were coming out of the woodwork, and crappy mobile games were making millions of dollars. But I would not be fooled, no sir. I had the good sense to know real games from these shoddy facsimiles, so I would stay my snobby course and scoff at these fools who were trying to play pretend at my hobby.
Once I had calmed down (it took a while, mind you) and actually tried out some of these games on my wife’s phone, I came to a harsh conclusion. In spite of all the commercialization and monetization at work in so many of these games, there is fun to be had in their play. Angry Birds is so reminiscent of the simple games of my youth, and Candy Crush Saga (at its core) is a competent match-three puzzle game for the masses. There are several other examples of fun “casual” games, and these sorts of titles exist right alongside what I consider more mainstream examples of video games.
So instead of perpetuating the “casual versus hardcore” games argument, why don’t we take joy in the multitudes who are playing video games all around the world? Candy Crush Saga may not be the game for all of us, but it can be a great first step into the deep well that is puzzle gaming, or just the means to have an actual conversation with an otherwise unknown co-worker. After all, everyone likes Tetris and Mario, right? Just go from there and share your hobby with the world.