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A Travel Medium

To the left of you is a woman. She’s lithe and seems quite nice. She has a quick but wholly charming interaction with a child who runs by and drops a toy. You don’t know her name, but you know she is perfect.

To the right of you is a man. Well, he’s less of a man and more of a blob. Even with modern science and doctors willing and able to cut and reroute blood flood in his double-wide corpse taken into consideration, his continued existence is somewhat of a miracle. You already know his name: pain.

And strewn about in an aluminum tube that shuttles through the upper atmosphere at 600 miles per hour is an endless sea of fish between and at these extremes. You sit firmly in the between camp in that you will always be between two shapeless entities that make a compelling argument for compulsory physical fitness and that space is as flexible and relative as time.

Your solace, however, is what’s in front of you, sitting on a visibly clean but tangibly sticky pull-down tray. You’ve just taken off for a four-hour flight and someone behind you is already coughing up a third or fourth lung, but this thing—an iPad, a PlayStation Vita, whatever—is going to comfort you in ways you thought only a fresh batch of your mom’s oven-baked macaroni and cheese was capable of. The question, though, is what to play.

Some games, of course, don’t sit well being played in such an environment. Crowded and cramped, games that require movement won’t fly (badum, chssh) here. Need for Speed: Most Wanted for iOS is plenty of fun but swinging your arms and body around trying to make quick turns isn’t going to earn you any friends. At best, you’ll narrowly avoid being restrained by an air marshal after giving your neighbor a black eye. No, motion-based games are out of the question.

Longevity is another concern. Quality is a given (required) but what of its average play session? You need something more substantial, heartier than a one-and-done deal. Infinity Blade is a game that is fantastically simple and playable on a mobile platform and doesn’t require drastic physical movement unless you are too emphatic about swiping bonuses, but it is overly redundant. After the initial love affair is over, play sessions lasting over 10 minutes is rare. No, a little more meat on the bone would be nice.

Have you considered what will happen when Blob 2 has to get up to go wreck the bathroom? Or what about when the flight attendant comes by to over beverages? The level of intrigue and required unbroken concentration is of utmost importance. Your game needs to be easily paused or, at the very least, put down without harming or negating your progress. Year Walk, as much as it is a damn near perfect mobile adventure game, really isn’t suited to random interruptions. When you are hunkered down, trying to listen to matching tones as you aimlessly wander through an increasingly confusing forest, looking away and disengaging is basically a guarantee to start over. No, you need easily compartmentalized.

And speaking of which, forget about playing something that requires audio. From the hum of the engines to the din of dying souls all around you, the ability to discern rhythms and tones and harmonies is next to impossible.

After taking part in well over thirty flights last year and looking forward to even more this year, I’ve come up with some ideal templates for workable in-flight games. Consider The Room, a puzzle game with a nice narrative and atmospheric veneer. It progresses well in that it can engage you for long stretches of time but doesn’t require constant attention. In fact, putting it down to address other, more pressing and fleshy matters may actually help you think.

Or Scribblenauts Remix. An already fantastic game is made more fantastic by the fact that it’s perfect for planes. You can look away at just about any time and not be any worse for it. Even if you are forced to look away as you accidentally put an angry vampire too close to you, it’s quick and easy enough to start over and get back to that point. That’s almost what the game’s entire puzzle-solving premise is based on. And it’s nice that you get little ministories within each level. They’re totally disjointed and sometimes nonsensical, but it’s nice.

Bastion, surprisingly, is a fairly good plane game. You might think that it, being an action adventure game, would require too much of your undivided attention and that the aural component is vital to the experience, but actual playing of it is quite open to disruptions. Rarely are you engaged in such heated battles that you can’t hit the pause button and allot proper cognitive resources to maintain that state in your head as it is maintained on your device. And somehow, hearing Darren Korb’s ethereal, exotic beats trying to compete with the deafening roar of airplane nonsense is almost a completely new experience. Just don’t expect to hear everything the narrator says, sadly.

You will never get the seat next to the perfect travel companion. You will never get an entire empty row to yourself. The person in front of you will never not lean back and never remember to not be an asshole. But the perfect game, the perfect airplane game, will always be there for you. Just like these two oversized marshmallow men that smell like onions and French beaches will always be by your side.

What are your ideal video games for flights?

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