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An Oversight, A Rebellion

An Oversight, A Rebellion

I guess I’m a rebel. Not in the conventional sense, no. I don’t wear leather jackets with pins in them (at least not anymore) nor do I post up on walls and smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. I guess my hair is the only external indicator for my disregard for social norms, a betrayal of my own invention. I’m not sure those traditional sort of rebels even exist in this modern age, though those flannel-loving cronies that I saw standing outside of a local speakeasy would make a solid argument otherwise.

Really, I just have a problem with authority. But who doesn’t? Even if you have a tendency to follow the natural born leaders of the world, you also tire from unnecessary or fruitless oversight. At the very least, being forced by some misunderstanding hand from on high to shift your output from efficient to abysmal is a nightmare. Working in such a regime can be tiring and frustrating and altogether maddening.

So it’s a strange thing that most people in the world find themselves under such stricture mostly out of circumstance. The daily grind, for instance, of working a nine-to-five is a barely held together, loosely formalized agreement to trade hours of your life for money, but the subtext of giving up on your dreams and relegating your passions to nights and weekends is enraging. Smoldering, quiet indignation is the soup du jour, except more like the soup du every day after you begin your formal education.

Imagine, then, how gratifying it must be to finally loose yourself from such shackles, to pry away your artificial bonds and fall free into happenstance and sweet, sweet liberty. To take a look at the offer in front of you and scoff and flip the table as you laugh your way out of the room. It’s the dream you have after an especially stupefying day sitting your cubicle, the one where you go into your boss’ office and yell “I QUIT!” while you flip off the entirety of your rubbernecking coworkers on your way out. Such delicious bliss.

It’s a feeling I got recently when I decided enough was enough with one particular game. The embargo is still a thing and a review is forthcoming, but it’s an iOS game with a bevy of microtransactions to supplant its subsidized costs upfront. It has the familiar structure of being allowed to play the game only so many times within a set period, otherwise you can use real money to buy more plays. In this case it’s a max of three hearts at one heart spent per play and one heart earned per 15 minutes.

And boy do I hate it. There’s already been some perhaps better writing on the topic done with a broader categorization of free-to-play energy (case in point: Simon Parkin’s condemnation and then interview with founder and managing director of Boss Alien, the studio behind the impetus game CSR Racing), and I agree with almost all of it. It’s a lack of consideration for the player’s skill determining his play experience that the old arcade pay-to-play model had in spades, but the focus on a much tighter and cohesive gameplay loop is something other larger modern games could learn from.

The problem sets in when each play lasts roughly a minute. The minimum is a minute, but through some mildly skill-based maneuvering, you can extend it upwards of two. But consider that even with two minutes per heart and you come back from a day of work to three time-refilled hearts, that’s still nine minutes afterwards you have to wait before you can play again.

To me, it felt an awful lot like a parent telling their child that they can only play for five more minutes on the jungle gym before they have to go home. And then you would have to wait a whole 24 hours until they would take the kid back to the playground for more fun. (It’s a much more frivolous interpretation of the oppression theme previously established, but this is a rather frivolous industry anyways.) It’s the mom who comes into your room and turns off your TV and says that’s enough Mario for tonight.

Perhaps that’s just an affectation of the game itself since its energy restrictions come off as unrepentant but also oddly mindful, much in the way progenitors act towards their progeny. But this is a purely voluntary act that is not for the player’s betterment. It’s not even a necessary evil but a willful maliciousness against their patrons. You’ve created a game, but more than that, you’ve created a game that I—and ostensibly others—want to play, and you’re move now is to stop me from doing that. This is the part where that table and multiple birds get flipped.

It’s as if every F2P game designer at some point watched a marathon of romantic comedies and got the wrong message. They believe that playing hard-to-get is a guaranteed success for wooing your beau or bonny lass, so what better way to woo the player of your game by doing likewise? But now you have a game playing against a player while the player is playing against the game. It’s a system that simply can’t sustain itself. It’s two walls pushing against each other except one wall can willfully leave the exchange of its own accord. And who wouldn’t? You didn’t sign up to be an artificial product’s plaything.

It’s the sort of thing that will bring out the same rebel in everyone. Not the one that worships on the altar of James Dean or the one that has an inexplicable and possibly illicit love for all things leather, even—and especially—during the summer. It’s just that rebel that refuses to bow down to a broken system and broken promises. I can’t imagine this model standing much longer for that reason. This oversight of telling gamers when and for how long they can play is not an equivalent exchange of merit and worth, and eventually everyone will catch on. Flannel’d or not, you’re gonna want to skip the soup.

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