The Benefits of A Timeless Time-Waster

Eagle-Vail airport, with it’s 5 terminals and planes that you actually have to walk onto the runway to get onto, understandably does not have much going on.  In today’s age where modern airline transportation is becoming more like space travel and less like boarding a bus, it is somewhat of a culture shock to be in an airport where you can stand in the center and see both ends.  It’s the end of spring break and we have arrived early for our flight.  There’s a small shop with no candy and a small restaurant with bad food.  The aisles are lined with sleepy parents and over emphatic kids, screaming about some card game where apparently the rules are not important in order for one to win.  With too much time to sit around, we wander the small airport, stumbling upon the holy grail of boring airports.  There, tucked between a wall and the bathroom, sits an old Pac-Man machine.  It was a curious site; the airport, like the town it resided in, was built in rustic, mountain/western fashion with lots of wood and forest green trim.  This neon colored 1970’s black box seemed like an oddity, but it was a welcoming site.  We immediately began to pool our change so we could play.  We passed the hour and a half wait very quickly, and happily boarded the plane having spent our time playing what proved to be a great time-waster.  I found that the most interesting thing about the game was the high scores.  I don’t remember if they were any more or less impressive than other games that I’ve seen, however their existence told me that over the years this game has served other bored travelers the same way it is currently serving us.  More modern airports, with their mall-like presence and endless sources of entertainment, might have been more appealing to another traveler, but we were perfectly content in that small airport playing Pac-Man, the perfectly timeless time-waster.

Games about Games

We’ve been thinking about what makes a good game design in our Gamestar Mechanic competition. In light of that, I’ve discovered this list of metagames. Some are just abusive like Desert Bus, where you have to drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas for eight hours. Some are minimalistic like Don’t Shoot the Puppy, which is a game of inaction where you try to follow the instruction in the title. My favorite is The Onion‘s parody of violent video games, Close Range–a first person shooter where all of your enemies appear right in front of you. While most of them are amusing, they all challenge some element of game mechanics or design.

The Takeover of the Online Game

As I sat in lecture today and we talked about motivation and what makes someone keep coming back to a game, I sat puzzled in my seat thinking about the online video game. What makes these so popular?

We all play Candystand, Addictinggames, and Sporcle multiple times a day. What keeps us coming back? why do we play the simple games day in and day out? What makes them addicting?

The Frustrations of Free Online Games

Well, I did it again.  I spent over an hour last night playing one game on  I couldn’t even tell you what the name of the game was, and yet I wasted the golden hours of my work-time window on this stupid game. The game involved shooting a squirrel/chipmunk/critter out of a rocket, and as you collected acorns, you gained points that you could put towards upgrades, which would help you launch the critter further, ultimately gaining you more points.

It is apropos that today’s lecture should be about motivation and engagement, because I believe that both aspects play a large part in our learning.  Last night, however, my time spent playing that frustrating online game led me to challenge the concepts that we have discussed in class.  I believe that motivation and engagements are only two tips of the triangle, and that reward, or compensation, must also be considered in order for the concepts we have discussed in class to fully be realized.  In sports, for example, a victory in a game accomplishes all three of the aforementioned concepts because it is a step towards the championship.  In video games, fully thought out and developed games for gaming systems, gamers are often rewarded or compensated for their success with bonus games or material, unlocking new content, or new gameplay options.  Hundreds of other real-world examples, including grades, competitions, and extracurriculars, exist to support this theory.

The point is that we engage in these activities because we know that when we finish them we will be better off than when we first began.  There is a distinct difference in these games than a game like Tetris or Solitaire, which one can play simply for the value of wasting a little time.  A distinct line is drawn between the simple time-wasters and the multi-dimensional games.  The problem that I have experienced is that these free online games fall directly in the middle.  The games are developed and lengthy enough to be motivating, but not engaging enough to produce any feelings of value, ultimately leading to the frustration of free online gaming, which leaves you with the feeling, “That’s it? I played that game for over an hour!  I don’t feel accomplished.  I just wasted a lot of time.”