I’ve been in a sour, grumpy mood lately, and the list of things I could write barely coherent rants about is as long as my arm. However, since much of what has been making me grumpy is the grumpiness of others, I’ve decided that I’m going to buck the trend and reserve this space for writing about things that do not make me grumpy, but instead are totally great.
You know what’s totally great? Games on the iPhone. Some of them, at least. There’s an entire wall full of apps available, which ensures plenty of dross, but I’ve played more than a few games that are quite awesome: Wurdle is a near-perfect Boggle adaptation; Zen Bound is astoundingly gorgeous; Drop 7 seems pokey and intellectual until you score your first big chain and your brain explodes from all the endorphins; Peggle does a shockingly good job of affording precise control on a tiny, portable device; Flight Control is good fun, even though I’m embarassingly bad at it; Solebon Solitaire somehow manages to do the impossible and make Klondike something other than the worst game ever invented.
The iPhone game that I’ve really fallen in love with, though, is Flower Garden. The gameplay, such as it is, is very simple: You plant flowers in pots, water them, watch them grow, pick them, and e-mail pictures of them to your friends. A play session is never more than a few minutes long, and you can keep your flowers healthy with two or three watering sessions a day. It’s not exactly the overwhelming stimulation of a Galaga Legions or the cracked-out addictiveness of a Plants vs. Zombies, but the pleasures that Flower Garden provides run deep.
Like Nintendogs, Animal Crossing, and The Sims, Flower Garden is a game about nurturing and growth. Unlike those games and their potential for crushing guilt, however, there’s very little negative feedback if you don’t play perfectly; flowers wilt if you under- or over-water them, but they never die, and it only takes a single successful watering to get them back to a bright and happy state. With its low barriers to success and brief play sessions, it almost reminds me of a Travian or Ikariam, slow games that encourage the player to make tiny investments of time and wait for them to pay off much later.
The hippy-dippy idealist in me loves the idea that a game can produce large amounts of happiness while demanding very little input energy; the cynical product peddler in me loves the idea of a game that engages players over a long period of time by being so undemanding that there’s no reason not to play every day. But mostly, the player in me just wants to see how long I can get the stems of my flowers to grow and send pictures of pretty flowers to my friends. It’s nice when so many of my split personalities win — especially when none of those personalities are my sour, grumpy self.