What’s the worst game you’ve ever played? I don’t mean the games that are so terrible you only play them for five minutes. Or perhaps longer, if you’re a reviewer being paid to produce an in-depth critique, which is how I ended up playing Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust for as long as I did. The fact I’ll never get that 18 minutes back will haunt me on my deathbed.
I mean the awful games you keep playing because of a particular circumstance, a strange compulsion, or both. The ones that aren’t unplayable, just unenjoyable, And yet you plug away for hours, without really knowing why, until you despise the game, everyone who made it, and yourself. The ones that are the video game equivalent of that boyfriend you had in your twenties for far too long, even though he used too much hair gel and would announce sex was over by going, “Well, that’s me done.”
Young people reading this might have no idea what I’m talking about. They have grown up with a plethora of entertainment at their disposal, from box sets and social media to loom bands and Jedward. My 11 year-old son cannot comprehend what it was like to have only four television channels. He pities me for not having been able to summon any film, song, or amusing video of a cat trying to get a Malteser out of a Kleenex box at will. (Of course, I did get free milk at school and my parents could afford to put the radiators on, so we’re probably even.)
If my lad fancies playing a new video game, there are hundreds of thousands for him to choose from. This was not the case when I was his age. I would spend all my birthday money on one game, selected from the 20 or so in the shop because it had a nice box. I played that game for the next six months - regardless of the quality, and despite the fact two months of that were spent just rewinding the tape.
I’m glad things have moved on. I find it easier to drop a game I’m not really enjoying in the knowledge there are so many more options out there. But sometimes I still fall down a gaming rabbit hole, and am unable to climb out. Just like Alice, except instead of the Cheshire Cat you’re trapped in a freakish technicolour landscape with Gex the Gecko.
This happened just last week, when I was laid up with a dreadful flu that left me unable to get out of bed, or worse, sit in front of the PS5. To pass the time I started trying out a load of mobile games. Somehow I ended up playing Coin Master, the worst game I’ve had the misfortune to encounter since my younger son invented indoor egg tennis.
It isn’t even really a game, as there is zero challenge involved or skill required. It’s a virtual fruit machine that has a big red button saying SPIN. You push it, and the machine vomits endless bounties at you - coins, free spins, health potions, trading cards, rectal suppositories. Maybe not the last one.
You can “steal” coins from other players and “upgrade your village”, but there are no choices to be made - this is just more button-pushing admin. If even that seems like too much effort, you can set the machine to auto-spin, so the thing basically plays itself.
Coin Master is a vacuous shell of a game, a brazen mess of microtransactions designed to lure simpletons in with its toxic blend of ludicrously simple mechanics and ceaseless dopamine hits. Last week I played it for 17 hours.
In my defence, much of this was while doing something else of more cultural value, like binge watching Australia’s Got Talent, and I was in a feverish state. (At one point my husband brought me a Lemsip, and I thought he was Dannii Minogue, and he had to close the bedroom curtains while I attempted to perform my old Thai ping pong trick.)
And I’m not the only one who’s been sucked in - Coin Master has been downloaded 194 million times and it’s the third-most popular mobile game in terms of consumer spending, having raked in more than $2 billion. It’s the kind of thing the gatekeepers of gaming love to hate - a casual mobile game that’s hugely successful despite the fact it asks nothing from the player in terms of skill or strategy.
Well, screw those guys. (It’s always guys.) Who are they to decide how games should be defined, designed, or enjoyed? I’m not proud of all the hours I spent with Coin Master, and I haven’t returned to it since the fever broke. But I’m not going to judge anyone who likes their games accessible and unchallenging. The more people play games, of all kinds, the more the industry will grow - and that is a good thing for gamers.
As for the people who make Coin Master - their game may be stupid, but they clearly aren’t. Good luck to them, sprinkling diamonds on their cornflakes and wiping their arses with fifty pound notes. Let us look on them not with envy, but with admiration. They are proof that even the silliest, most simplistic game concepts can make you a millionaire. Anyone for indoor egg tennis?
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