Right now I am naked and I have to admit it is mortifying and undignified – I should probably elaborate since what I actually mean is not nearly as inappropriate as what your perverse imaginations have just conjured up and also because it would probably make for an even shittier blog post if I left it there.
The nakedness I’m referring to is a description of my current video game deprived state, due to a series of events beyond my control I am now living with my grandparents and cousins in a frightfully secluded part of London. If ever there was a realisation of Silent Hill this would be it, during the day the trees interlock and block all sunlight in what feels like a deliberate scheme to disorientate and demoralise the inhabitants of Silent Hill London thereby reducing any chance of resistance during the inevitable foliage rebellion. During the night an omnipresent fog torments the town like the black-smoke from Lost, apprantly during the episodes it isn't needed to keep fans from loosing faith it likes to dress up like the white variety of fog and harass the inhabitants of small towns in London.
Forced to leave my beloved 360, PS3 and Wii at home I am now subsisting on a diet of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP and Pokemon for the DS, and since I’m pretty much done with Tactics and reached the human limit for Pokemon I have nothing left to tide me over until this ordeal is over…or so I thought.
While walking around the house earlier I noticed a DS cartridge in the corner, this left me puzzled considering no one else in the household had heard of a DS let alone owned one, I decided not to dwell on the peculiar circumstances and reached out to pick up what could become the cure to my boredom, my yearning for a good time consuming game conjured up images of Elite Beat Agents, Zelda, or maybe Puzzle Quest, the reality turned out to be Scrabble DS, the biggest anti-climax since the last meaningful England football match.
Considering the played-out alternatives I decided to give the game a chance and to my surprise I became quite immersed in the game. Scrabble DS sticks rigidly to the framework set out by the board game counterpart; you could say it is a direct port of the board game. If you’re not familiar with Scrabble fear not, being the thoughtful person I am I have gone through the trouble of pasting the relevant sections of the wikipedia entry for Scrabble below, and I did it all manually to ensure quality, none of those inconsiderate keyboard shortcut jobs;
‘Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works provide a list of permissible words, many of which are rarely found in standard English writing. The game is also known as Alfapet, Funworder, Skip-A-Cross, Spelofun, Palabras Cruzadas ("crossed words") and Word for Word.’
Its basically a crossword puzzle without the clues, instead you are left to create words using the letters provided and are assigned points based on the letters used and the placement on the board (some squares can increase the total value of a word). Anyway I’ve been playing Scrabble DS incessantly for the last five or so hours and am having more fun than I imagined I would. Whilst working in HMV I would often come across people looking for games such as Scrabble or 42 all-time classics or some other game so casual that it can it is barely though of as a game and I always used to think to myself “what a waste of money, why spend that money on a game that you can pick up for nothing as a board game, especially when there are amazing games like Zelda, Phoenix Wright or Mario” and while that question is still floating around in my head I have become more open to games such as these and casual games in general, although I probably wouldn’t spend my money on these types of games my experience with Scrabble has made me more willing to accept casual games and gamers.
After playing Scrabble for a while now I’ve come to understand that the appeal of casual games boils down to two key aspects. The first is familiarity and the second is simplicity.
While working at the aforementioned retailer I was ‘lucky’ enough to go through the Wii and DS drought during the Christmas period, every so often DS consoles would show up and following them would be the occasional tired and broken looking parent, but the regular DS hunters would usually be either business men and women, or the elderly (the crowd that we’ve now come to identify as Nintendo’s casual audience). After finally getting their hands on a DS they’d always opt to purchase 42-all time classics or Scrabble, or some other casual game usually only found at Sunday night family bonding sessions. The reason these games are so popular is because they are just the same games that people have grown up with and come to understand in a more accessible format. These games provide for a far more approachable experience than any game targeted to the more devoted gamer because they don’t require the player to learn any unfamiliar game mechanics or at the very least makes the mechanic so simple that it is barely a learning process, nearly everyone on the planet knows how to play Scrabble, or Black Jack, this familiarity coupled with the simplicity provided by the unique control mechanic of the DS or Wii make the game appealing to the casual audience.
Of course you guys all know this, so why am I telling you, well I guess just to encourage the occasional step into the casual games field. As enthusiasts we don’t really take a game seriously anymore unless it has deep mechanics, eye popping aesthetics and the production values of a Hollywood movie, sure there is the plethora of titles available on the various online platforms but we usually don’t spend too much time with these (the exception being games like Puzzle Quest) and most of them are earlier iterations of games we currently enjoy as ‘hardcore’ gamers.
Spending time with a simple but enjoyable title helps put things in perspective, it can be a refreshing change of pace for those gamers who may have become a little jaded from the recent overflow in triple A titles. After playing Scrabble for the better part of my waking day and probably for the next two weeks I feel that I’ll be able to enjoy the fully fleshed out experience with a reinvigorated appreciation for games.