Date: June 28th, 2017
I love games. Board games, capture-the-flag, hide n’ seek, computer games, video games, mobile (phone) games, pen and paper games. All games.
But this blog post is about mobile and computer games specifically. Often also categorized as video games when it is used as an umbrella term, they seem to be the enemy of good parents and the friend of neglectful parents.
I am here to defend them.
I’m also here to praise them.
Poptropica was my first video game. I’m a “fresh” 16 now, and it must’ve been years ago when I started playing.
For the lay person: Poptropica is a child-friendly world of “islands.” On each island, there is a problem to solve. For Time Tangled, you have to go in a time machine and assign objects you come across to their proper time period. That island was cool. You went to visit the Vikings, Leonardo Da Vinci, and some weird Oracle sitting in an Ancient Greek temple. You could potentially take one piece of clothing from each time period and end up with an awesome Time Traveler costume. (There’s an idea…) Hey, speaking of Ancient Greece showing up in Poptropica, there’s also Mythology Island! As we all should know from reading the Rick Riordan books, Zeus is a dickhead. (Pardon my French.) And he wants you dead. You get to dress up in a swaggy three-piece suit made up of crown, trident, and cloud and beat him into the dirtiest dirt imaginable – the Mt. Olympus dirt. It’s one of my three favorite islands.
The other two are Twisted Thicket, and Reality TV. Twisted Thicket was beautiful and poignant. The art was amazing. It inspired a fantasy of mine – that one day I’d wake up and there’d be a gate in my backyard, small enough to fit just me, but it would change size if I wanted to invite taller friends. Go through the gate, and enter a haven of endless tall trees, climbable and strong. Rivers and streams would wind through it. Butterflies, but no bees or wasps. Perfect for two of the games I mentioned, capture-the-flag and hide n’ seek. Now, that fantasy takes on a higher meaning. Just as the thicket was safety for those magical Poptropican spirits and animals, I imagine opening the gate every time a species is about to go extinct. Or even anytime a single animal is about to die. An imaginary Eden that we can never open the gate to, teeming with life. Twisted Thicket inspired it so deeply that if I ever write a book taking place in my Eden, I’ll thank Poptropica in the acknowledgements, where Gods and Parents normally go.
Reality TV’s challenges are so fun. Honestly, I’m so glad that you can go through the “show” again without having to restart the whole island. My favorite challenges are the climbing pole one, fishing one and the turtle shell one. And I’ve figured out a trick for that one actually. There’s a palm tree in the background, right? Put your arrow right underneath the farthest (from you) little leafy thing. You’ll never miss the 20 shell again. And one thing I was surprised about – from the characters invented for the island to the others brought in from elsewhere, the contestants had personalities. They behaved like real people. Try to vote them off, they’d return fire. An interesting behavior I recognized is that because they could never vote off the winner, they’d vote off whoever was in second place, to get rid of the second best so they could move up a notch in comparative ability. (Love analyzing Poptropica.) I adopted that behavior, and took advantage of it. More recently, I’ve started changing clothes during the show to copy the outfit of whoever I wanted to “take down” next. Yep. I’d made enemies. Like Lassie Lasso. Whenever I played, she hated my character. No one else was always malicious towards me. She and I were enemies. Kept voting each other off. Over time, I got used to getting rid of her first. And I congratulate the Creators for making her behave like a person. She was entertaining.
I’ve always loved Poptropica, and always will. The music and design for Poptropica Realms were ingenious, of course. I really love Realms. (But lately, it keeps restarting me at Asgard and deleting everything else.) I hope they bring Realms to Poptropica Worlds. That would be brilliant and too kind of them. But Poptropica Worlds has already drawn some criticism, most eloquently voiced by this person:
I have to agree with Mr. Dr. Pepper. Yes, I am getting older, but I could still play Cryptids now, or Super Power Island, or Wild West (I can never get that darn cow!), or Arabian Knights, and be just as thrilled and captivated. Which means its not us. It’s them. I can understand wanting to direct your islands at a younger audience, but that means leaving the older ones behind. It’s not like we’re trying to slowly wean ourselves off of Poptropica. The easier it gets, the less fun it is. Which kinda sucks. Poptropica is special to me. It’s been with me that long. Having superpowers is plain entertainment to an average kid – I use a wheelchair most of the time, can’t walk very well – so being transported to another world, either by reading, writing, or playing, is something I’m actually grateful for. Cryptids and Survival reminded me cleverness and resourcefulness (we literally found that dollar in a bush, remember?) are too important to waste. Time Tangled, Nabooti, and Astro Knights reminded me how much I love exploring. Twisted Thicket, Lunary Colony, and Atlantis all reminded me that boundaries are written on the world in marker by those who believe in power over kindness.
I sympathized with the Binary Bard because he was different, too smart for those around him, and saw the darkness in the world even though he was born in a kid’s game – if there’s ever a Poptropica movie, I volunteer Jared Padelecki or Sebastian Stan for that role.
The wonderful thing is, Poptropica isn’t addictive. At all. I don’t go on it unless there’s a new island or I’m still working on an old one. So that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about. Addiction. A valid worry, and a menacing problem.
I will always love Poptropica. I might not always play it, though.
But I’ll make sure my kids do.
2. CHOICES: STORIES YOU PLAY
Choices is like a choose-your-own adventure on a phone. It is hilarious, and so well written. I was expecting teen drama all the way – think about it. It’s a mobile game with story titles like “Rules Of Engagement.” I’d scoff if I hadn’t tried it out. My first book on there was The Crown And The Flame Book 1, of course. Queen Kenna is bisexual in the non-fetishy way, as are most of the characters in every story. And Queen Kenna is brave and strong and fights off the assassins sent to kill her herself. She is bad*ss. In every book she’s in, she saves the day with some fancy moves and royal flair. She does require help, but in her own special way, she shows that both women and men can need help and have friends and still kick *ss. The list of people I ship her with is endless. The Haunting Of Braidwood Manor and Endless Summer were both worth their own blockbuster movies, and don’t even get me started on Love Hacks. I wish to marry Sereena, and I also ship her with that woman she ran into at grad school. Love Hacks is so diverse and funny beyond belief. It’s like if I wrote it. (Way to not brag, Z. But hey! If all else fails, I could go work there!) One book I wasn’t sure I would like was The Royal Romance. Cheesy, right? Except not at all. Our main character is a woman (to be named by player, I named her Lady Fuzzycheeks Breastjude), a waitress from New York who accidentally meets a prince, moves to his kingdom, and falls in love with a woman. (That’s how I’m doing it, anyways.) And of course we have this gem (see Figure M):
She was speaking about another character who had just “boldly” kissed the Prince in the middle of the ballroom. Daaaaamn. That is a burn, Madeleine. Madeleine is just one of the lovely women you’ll meet on this crazy ride.
The male characters in every book are funny and sensitive. They have hard problems to deal with.
This game, I swear – it is so diverse, and intersectionally feminist and it defeats toxic masculinity.
Hey, maybe I really will go work there.
Terragenesis is about terraforming. One of my favorite pastimes. (Just kidding. I’m not actually terraforming planets for fun. Not yet, at least.) Sometimes I play Terragenesis just to listen to the music. It is composed very well, and it is very relaxing. The driving force of the game is Mars, but you don’t only get to terraform just one planet. You get to terraform Earth to guard it against global warming, and if you don’t fast enough, everyone dies, you run out of money, and don’t get it back either (you need money to build the things that give you money *sigh*), which is sadly pretty accurate. You also get the moon to terraform, and Jupiter’s moons, and the Trappist system recently discovered. But on Mars, running out of money isn’t the end of the world. Well, it shouldn’t ever come to this, but all you need to do is shut down the colonies, disabling anything that costs money, then build the mines back up again and slowly add all the stuff back. I love terraforming. Not just this game. I have my own plans for the real thing. But the point I must stress is, if you can’t do it in the real world yet, settle for a book. Or a game.
My Terragenesis Mars from just a few days ago.
4. WAR DRAGONS
This game just helps me get my anger out in a somewhat healthy way. You get to name your dragons funny names and destroy things. What more could you want? (I love destroying things. It is too entertaining for me.)
5. RUSH BY MURO STUDIOS
Really, Rush doesn’t satisfy me emotionally like Poptropica or Choices. It’s just a very quick tap tap tap game with really, really good art. Tap tap tap tap tap. Whoosh. Whoosh. Crunch. Growl.
All in all, my video game taste is varied. From Poptropica to Rush, they all deserve to be defended from the onslaught of parenthood. Hear me out, I know this sounds crazy – video games don’t care about melting your brain, or enriching it. Some video games are art, some are stories, some are fighting games or superpower games. All are here to represent worlds in which humanity is free from those marker drawn boundaries. (For instance: “Gee, I’m sorry I’m not able to fly without a plane in the real world…”) Games are innocent in the fight against laziness and a lack of creativity!
From ScienceAlert: “When the researchers looked at 24 participants who had played the game for 30 minutes a day for two months under an MRI machine they found that they had increased grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum, compared to a control group that hadn’t played any game.” This was taken from an article about the benefits of video games. It reaffirms the idea that reality and the affects different experiences have on you are directly influenced by how your brain processes them. When rats run through mazes, they dream about their day at night, and their brain goes through the same chemical patterns their brain did doing the actual thing. Gamers are learning when they play. When you learn to shoot a gun in a game, you’re not learning the “real” skill, but you are learning a skill.
Of course, experiments are called “experiments” and not “already proven fact” for a reason. It is not good for you to stare at a screen for hours, no matter what you’re doing. And just because you’re learning doesn’t mean you’re learning anything useful. Benefits don’t immediately constitute a lack of problems. (Also, fun fact, that article was sponsored by a game studio to essentially promote their new game.) But under an hour (at least for me, personally), everything goes smoothly. And I know that listing a few good things and referencing my own likely biased experience won’t fix all the very real problems. I’m here to debunk a few fake ones.
The idea that violent games breed violent kids is actually backwards. “The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania…’We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,’ Raine says. Or perhaps there is an ‘optimal level of physiological arousal,’ and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal.” From The Atlantic. For many children, violence is the only thing strong enough to shake them out of, basically, a stupor. Because violence – murdering someone, getting in a fight, robbing a home or store – gives the crime-committer adrenaline. Or the things that accompany adrenaline if not exactly that.
And when I was fighting the Binary Bard while he was sitting in the giant robot, dodging his projectiles, in the final scene of Astro Knights, I certainly felt something like adrenaline, a higher heart rate. Gamers know this feeling. Video games don’t have to be particularly “good” for you to get invested during a fight or chase scene. Whenever the music gets faster, or maybe your breathing does, and you’re saying a curse word over and over again while your avatar is running around the room as you’re looking for something, anything, to help you on your journey…when you get invested in a video game, you jump at the jolts. You feel the difficulty. And I’m not saying Poptropica is enough to heal these kids. Maybe it’s not the right type of game. Maybe it is. But either way, there you go. There’s a benefit, that I don’t think anyone’s tried yet. (If you have, hit me up. You’re cool.)
I’m still an artist, even though I play these games. Maybe my brain has melted just enough to teach me a few lessons. But often, while I’m playing a game, I’m multitasking in my head – I’m inventing my own game, trying to figure out the real world equivalent of any given thing, writing a book, creating a dragon from scratch, and designing my own planet.
Are there more important things to do than play these games? Heck yes. Like save the world from very real global warming. Or racism. Or sexism. But people are, by their nature, just as much Creators as the Poptropicans are. We like inventing worlds and exploring them in our downtime (or maybe uptime, I don’t blame you). Humans are gods of the worlds inside their heads, and others’ heads. This is the gift of imagination. And you may have noticed that I say both video games and books can be used to travel these worlds outside of heads. I use them almost interchangeably. Video games don’t kill creativity. (Well, not all do. Candy Crush does, and I’m guilty of playing it.) Most of them heighten it. They are exactly like books in the what they do. Books are far better. But the choice between book and game shouldn’t be a choice between good and bad. It should be a choice between book and game. Some games like Choices are literally mobile choose-your-own adventure books.
When I say I’m a gamer and proud, it doesn’t mean I’m more proud of that than I am of my writing or drawing skills. Or my kindness and intelligence. And it doesn’t mean that’s what I do all day. It means…”Here I am…and by george, this is fun.”
A final note for the Poptropican Creators: I know we’ve rushed you with this whole Poptropica Worlds thing. Which might why you’ve been getting comments that the game is lagging/glitching, and the inbox and doors aren’t ready yet. We’re all just very excited. And don’t let constructive criticism control you. It does help you build a better game, yes. But – I trust you guys. Take all the time you need, have all the fun you want, and make it an awesome free world. You guys work hard. I respect you fellas and gals intensely.