The Gassy Gnoll: Getting Lost in a Game…

This week the Gassy Gnoll is away from home in an unfamiliar territory speaking in tongues with wizards of lightning and thought… (Just a fancy way of saying he’s at a software developer’s conference talking “geek” with many other “geeks”.) And I was introduced to a new game on my iPad that has turned out to be quite addictive, thanks to this article by the Id DM. (Thanks a lot Iddy… I should be practicing my talk for Thursday, not attempting to build tower defenses in Kingdom Rush to continue saving the kingdom… :))

Kingdom Rush - Armor Games and Ironhide Game Studios (kingdomrush.com)

I won’t bother reviewing the game itself beyond saying that it’s addictive as all heck and I spent the better part of two hours tonight “lost” in it. And that’s what today’s post is about… the joy of getting lost in a game.

It might have been Skyrim that was last on the addiction list at my house, but it got a bit repetitive and eventually wore itself out. (How many dragons must you kill to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?) And between work, the beginning of another outdoor season of soccer for my girls, and Game Knight Reviews, I haven’t had time to really look for the next addictive game in the series.

But finding Kingdom Rush made me wonder why some games are addictive and others aren’t. And why some tabletop campaigns seem to fly by and others seem to drag forever. I think there are similar concepts at work here.

First, I think it’s the thrill of finding something both new and familiar. It’s a strange combination, but in my experience I think we gravitate towards those types of activities we’ve enjoyed in the past but often seek out ways to keep those activities fresh and exciting. For instance, Kindgom Rush plays like any of many other tower defense games over the years. The interface is simple, but the increasing complexity of each level forces you to think quickly, adjust your strategies, and find ways to defeat enemy after enemy. Much like Plants vs. Zombies (which I have played through more times than I’m willing to admit on both the PC and the iPad), though the patterns are familiar, it’s fun to find different strategies over time.

I think this applies to tabletop roleplaying just as much as to computer, console, and tablet-based games. Every time we start a new campaign we’re looking for some new experience doing the same general things over and over again. Find a set of rules. Create a character. Roleplay that character through a series of challenges in a story guided by the gamemaster. Along the way we interact with each other socially. Sometimes we roll dice or move pieces on a board. And though the specifics may change, we’re repeating the same basic steps we’ve done since D&D was created nearly four decades ago.

Second, we are looking for something that’s fun. What is fun? Merriam-Webster defines “fun” as something that provides amusement or enjoyment (or, if used in a sarcastic way, does the complete opposite). So we’re looking for ways to take our minds off whatever the troubles of the day may be to focus on something less serious for a while. I’ve certainly killed my share of hours playing the classic Solitaire game on Windows machines for more than 20 years… But more than that, there has to be a spark somewhere in the pursuit that raises it merely from wasting time to doing something enjoyable and entertaining.

Regardless of whether you’re playing Kingdom Rush or a game of D&D 4e with friends, I think the goal is the same. Finding moments of pleasure and happiness. Different people like different parts of games. Some like the strategy. Some like the competition. Some simply like hanging out with friends performing a common activity. Personally I like the creativity. Even doing a tower defense game, there’s a creative aspect to picking and choosing what tools you’ll use to perform your task. And sometimes I will even do something wacky just to see how it affects the rest of the game – deliberately do something out of the normal chain (or on the urging of a randomly firing neuron) and see what happens.

And when a game becomes work, the fun goes away… I think that’s why I gravitate towards rules-light games these days. I don’t really want to work too hard when I play. I’d rather put my energy into creative endeavors than trying to figure out why 2 + 2 doesn’t always equal 4 on alternate Tuesdays in months with the letter Y.

And that leads me to the third thing… Achieving a goal. I know all about the fact that the journey is more important than the destination, but let’s face it – whether the goal is to save the princess, slay the monster, or simply build towers of varying offensive or defensive capabilities, it’s the doing of things and seeing the results that’s a big part of it. Sure, getting there is part of the fun. But the joy of discovery, of experimentation, of simply popping out to see what’s going on… that’s the key! (Or maybe it’s just me, in which case – leave me a comment below and let’s talk about why YOU are playing games.

Even in a sandbox campaign, you find yourself seeking things to do, getting them done, and finding more things to do. Nobody I’ve ever played with has said “gee, I’ve got this great fighter – I think he’s going to take a vacation from fighting for a while…” That’s not fun to roleplay (unless you know it’s leading you on another adventure) – at least I don’t think so. Heroes are meant to get out and do things. Get in trouble. Face the danger. Achieve the impossible!

Long story short, games are a necessary part of life. Without play, the rest of life is a bit dull I think. And there’s plenty of room in my own life for playing games by myself, with my family, or my friends – whether in-person, online, or tapping away at my iPad. I just find it amusing that a little tower defense game kept me occupied for two hours straight, inspired me to write about it, and now I want to go back and play it again!!

What are your current addictions? Whether they be RPGs, console games, apps, or whatever – curious minds want to know!

Now I’m going to go back to play “one more level” of Kingdom Rush before I go to sleep. Riiiight…

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