Possibly proving you’re an idiot

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There is a game called Homescapes whose ads subject you to an endless loop of an animated hand attempting —and failing— over and over, to solve a simple logic problem.

Homescapes screen

There are tons of games like this out there, each of which asks you to manipulate a series of gates so that your nemo-fish escapes a shark, your adventurer gets the gold, your sheep escape the terminator-like advance of a combine harvester, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. There are gates, there’s something you want and something you don’t want, and your job is to manipulate the gates to avoid disaster.

Another thing that these games all have in common is an animated demonstration of how to manipulate the controls. And they invariably show you how to do it wrong. The wrong switch gets tripped and the lava falls on the fish, or the toxic sludge drenches the homeowner or whatever. It is, frankly, infuriating to watch. Over and over again, the disembodied hand moves the lever that obviously spells doom for the sheep/fish/damsel, and you find yourself thinking, “Move! Let me do it.” It’s almost if it’s by design.

I haven’t actually played any of these games, mostly because it would feel like giving in. So, I say “sorry, little fish, good luck with that lava.” I just can’t afford to get involved with what is clearly someone else’s problem.

I do have questions…

Speaking of other people’s problems, the winner in that category has to be the poor guy who lives in the game “Homescapes”. That’s him in the picture above. The disembodied hand is clearly tasked with getting the fresh (blue) water into the sink and avoiding the disgusting, toxic water. What I want to know is, how did this house get a certificate of occupancy in the first place? How can it be to code to have the fresh water and the toxic water flowing through the same pipes? Clearly, even if the disembodied hand can figure out how to drain the toxic water from the system (it can’t, by the way) the fresh water has to run through the same pipes. I certainly wouldn’t be washing up with that water after knowing where it’s been!

And how did that toxic water get there in the first place? Was there an architect who sat down at his blueprints and said, “we’ll keep the toxic water up here, and attach it to the sink and the fresh water. That’ll save us some copper!”

The whole setup reminds me of the Schitt’s Creek episode “The Drip”, in which Johnny Rose is awakened by having “brown sewage water” dripping from the ceiling into his bed. What struck me as odd is that the Rosebud Motel is only one story. If the water was indeed sewage water (which seems to be implied, though it’s only Johnny’s conjecture), why would it be above them? That would mean that somewhere in the Rosebud there’s a pump that sends sewage up, not common except in basements and other subterranean areas. (Anyway, the show gets a pass because it’s hysterically funny, but some people notice things like that.)

Only 5% Can Solve This

As if watching someone fail over and over to solve a very simple logic problem isn’t enough, the ads want to make sure that you’re well and truly on the hook. So it ends with this phrase: “Only 5% can solve this”. Now the gauntlet has really been thrown down. Now I’m thinking, “Really? Only 5% (of people, I’m guessing) know not to drop the gas can on top of the kitchen fire? I must be some kind of genius, because that occurred to me right away!” Somewhere out there, no question about it, there’s someone who downloads this game just to prove to the world (as if the world is watching and this isn’t just the spotlight effect) that they’re in that elite 5% of thinkers. Me, I’m too smart for that. Besides, I’m too busy playing Sim City BuildIt.

Sim City BuildIt: The Tar Baby for Completionists

You may wonder where I’m seeing all these ads for mobile games. Why, I see them when I’m playing a mobile game, of course! The one that I have sadly fallen victim to is Sim City BuildIt which is, as far as I can tell, the modern incarnation of the much-loved Sim City.

It’s sort of “Sim City Lite”, though. There is much less strategy as far as I can tell. Because you can move things around easily and you get refunds on things that you’ve built but now want to bulldoze, you don’t really need to think ahead. Also, there seem to be many fewer options you have to influence the outcome of your city. Basically, you build stuff, and the stuff you build generates money so that you can buy the stuff you can’t build. It’s actually really basic, but it’s a total trap for completionists like myself.

See, I’m almost ready to send the cargo ship at my port off to some far off land. I just need to load one more shipment of cabinets onto it. Of course, to make a cabinet, I need lumber, so I have to load up my furniture factory with lumber. Where does the lumber come from? From wood, of course. I need to make sure that the building supply store has enough wood (which, in turn, comes from a factory). Each of these stops has a finite number of items that can be put in the queues, and production times that range from minutes to hours. It’s an endless list of cascading dependencies, and the more you accomplish, the more complex the items you need to make become (oh, the days in the beginning when you could just dump a bunch of raw metal onto a building site and get a house!). You can, of course, pay real actual money to speed up the process (and it’s that feature that makes the game “free to play” because it subsidizes all of the development costs), but that feels like cheating. No, I’d rather pay in time, lost minutes and hours waiting for that hunk of cheese to be finished at the farmer’s market so I can get it over to the fast food place to make cheese fries. Seriously, though, it’s enough that I’m giving over so much time to a game, but I still can avoid becoming a whale for free-to-play apps.

Easy to quit, I’ve done it many times!

This morning I deleted the Sim City app from my iPad. Of course, I’ve done that a few times before so it’s hard to know if this is really it or not. At this point, though, I’ve spent enough time in the game that it has gotten almost insufferably repetitive, and each time I quit I feel a bit less pull to go back. Of course, the city itself (”Buddyton”, if you were curious) lives in the cloud, so all I have to do is download the game again and run through the tutorial before I’m back to tending to my residents complaining that I really need to build that solar farm because the coal plant is killing them.

So, for now, I’m done with that stupid game. Will I ever go back? I might, but if I do I probably won’t say, because all that would do is confirm that I actually am as easy to manipulate as they think I am.

(Incidentally, I’m not including links to any of the games I mention here. You just don’t need them. You’re welcome.)

(PS: Apologies to anyone who are offended by the use of the phrase “tar baby”, which in recent years has been regarded by some as a derogatory reference to Africans (or Maori, Wikipedia tells me). Hopefully from context you can see that mine is not a racial commentary of any kind. Frankly, I was hesitant to even use this idiom, but I don’t know another that captures the meaning, and writing “a problem that is exacerbated by attempts to struggle with it, or by extension to a situation in which mere contact can lead to becoming inextricably involved” is a little wordy.)


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