Why people should stop playing Farmville and every game like it

February 15, 2012

All right, so my hot wife recently became addicted to this game - I think it's called Birdland - where birds are bred and raised and sold and whatnot. What it basically amounts to is clicking on shit a lot, then waiting some amount of time for the birds to breed, then clicking on a lot of shit again. It reminded me a lot of my experience with Farmville - a fascination with which I am still ashamed about to this day - and it got me thinking about the value of video games and why some of them are giant gaping black holes that suck away people's valuable time with little or nothing to give in return.

Now, I put forth the subjective argument that many video games do have value to offer back to the player. The most obvious example of this is the puzzle game, which can help hone a player's various reasoning and logic skills by challenging them in various ways. I mean, I have heard of multiple instances of doctors telling their patients to play games like Brain Age or more active Wii games to help with their memory and other mental faculties. And I think this can be stretched to a wide variety of formats and genres. Games that engage the player and require them to actively think about their situation and how to move forward have great value, in my opinion.

And then there are games like Farmville, where players mindlessly click on things over and over and over. I'm not saying these games provide zero mental stimulation. There is some general thought along the lines of "what is the best way to make more money and more experience," but the amount of time spent compared to the amount of thought that is actually executed in playing is so minimal that it is appalling. I mean, I don't want to get all preachy, but can you imagine what people what people of a less privileged culture would think of millions of people click-click-clicking on shit for hours a day with no real discernible purpose - essentially wasting their time by their own free will?

And what's even more appalling is that the developers of these free-to-play micro-payment games design them for just that purpose, first by applying the smallest amount of mental stimulation possible to appeal to the widest audience, and then making sure the game wastes the maximum amount of time possible, presumably to goad people into giving them money to make things go faster. Ugh.

Anyway, let's talk about Lufia 2 now. It's an old SNES game that I really love some of the time and really hate some of the time. As far as RPGs go, the dungeon layout is top-notch. The amount of puzzles and complex systems of switches and passageways gives more mental stimulation than a Zelda game. It is a constant battle of the mind figuring out not only where all the secret treasures are but also just getting through to the boss. I cannot praise it highly enough.

On the other hand, it falls into the biggest pitfall in the RPG business - terribly boring combat. It goes something like this: Battle starts, click to open the menu, click attack, attack, attack, attack for all 4 party members, watch battle play out slowly, next turn starts, click, click, click, click...

Sound familiar? So many RPGs can't seem to rise above this stigma of "attack, attack, attack, attack" as the most promising way to navigate through a battle. You could probably do something else, but it would probably take more time or use valuable resources, and this shit is just boring.

I haven't figured out how yet, but if I don't accomplish anything else, I'm at least going to make sure that the battles in Gathering Storm aren't mindless click-fests. A lot of this is just adding more dynamic elements to combat, i.e. runes. skills, talents, and also increasing the difficulty so that players really have to fight to survive, but a lot will probably also just be play-testing and tweaking things.

But it will happen. There will be no mindless click-fests here. It is one of my highest goals.

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