Editor's note: Ben provides an interesting take on the stigma attached to gaming. He suggests that rather than fight against it, we should use it as a tool to discourage undesired social interaction. With the speedy rise of handheld gaming, being antisocial is easier than ever before. -Jay
I love casual games. They fit my personality. I think it might have something to do with being a Londoner, which science has irrefutably proven to be the grumpiest place in Britain.
Casual games are great if you fit that clichéd surly Londoner mold. From my own experience, I've found that sometimes, no matter what precautions I've taken, ending up among potentially cheery and sociable strangers is unavoidable. How do I cope? Well, I'm going to let you into a little secret. You see, it’s at these times that casual games really come into their own.
For instance, in the worst moments, when I’m on the tube surrounded on all sides by other people, I bring out the big guns. I fire up Canabalt and begin poking at my iPhone with the gleeful fervor of a nine year-old boy. The tap-tap-tap of my finger on the screen — along with the obligatory vacant expression and non-blinking stare — sends a clear message to the other passengers: “Don’t touch me, don’t look at me, and don’t even think about talking to me.”
While not everyone realizes the value of these games as a social defence, I know I'm not entirely alone. You need look no further than the meteoric rise of portable casual games for incontrovertible evidence of a society with a core contingent of citizens who abhor the very idea of amiable chitchat with one another.
If I were a casual game developer, that would be my angle. If I worked for Firemint, I’d market Flight Control as the best way to avoid conversations with really old people on airplanes. All you do is launch the app and casually explain that you’re responsible for Air Traffic Control and this is how it all works these days. If that alone doesn't solve the problem, you could be more explicit and add that you really need to concentrate or lots of people will most likely die.
Recently, I was happily ranting about all this to an acquaintance when he interrupted me with the question, “What is a casual game, anyway?”
I explained it didn’t really matter. Like Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, you know it when you see it. But when pushed, I suggested casual games are generally cheap, accessible, and fairly simple to play.
He replied that he’d bought Wolfenstein 3D on his phone, and he believed it met all those criteria. He wanted to know if I thought that made it "casual". I said that wasn’t really the point I wanted to make. But I’d clearly touched a nerve because he wouldn't let it drop. He demanded to know whether I thought "the grandfather of first person shooters" was nothing more than a casual game.
People without my experience may have buckled and kept that farce of a conversation up. Not me. I simply pulled out my phone and played Angry Birds until he went away.
However, this conversation piqued my curiosity, and I subsequently spent some time on the Internet trying to find a definition of casual games. The best one I saw was in a white paper produced by the International Game Developers Association in 2008.
They listed a number of characteristics that casual games share, including: intended for short stints, being inclusive, and having an emphasis on fun.
The more sociable among you might argue those are similar characteristics to a pleasant conversation between strangers on public transport. And, I suppose, you might have a point.
But even if that’s true, given the choice, I’d still rather play Canabalt.