I guess I’m a casual gamer now – but who cares?
I am addicted to video games again. Addicted like I haven’t been in years. Addicted to the point where my left thumb and right forefinger are borderline arthritic from playing them as soon as I open my eyes in the morning and last thing before I close them at night.
This is ridiculous behaviour in a man approaching his mid-50s. I should be waking up and performing pilates. My eyelids should droop while perusing Reader’s Digest at bedtime. I should be getting arthritis in my hands from planting peonies or unwrapping Werther’s Originals. But no. It’s games wot done it, and not even hardcore ones involving gods or war or elden rings. I am obsessed with what I once might have scornfully labelled casual gaming. I’m talking about Apple Arcade, which I am now convinced is the best value games delivery system on the planet in 2023. It has turned my phone into the most fun gaming console I’ve had since my Neo Geo in the 90s.
I can’t think of anything in the last 20 years that has given me so many games of such quality, variety, imagination and downright weirdness. I have helped trees grow by lopping off branches to guide them to sunlight in Prune. I have solved serious family problems by fixing folk’s gadgets in Assemble With Care. I have completed complex puzzles by dragging water through paint in Tint, built towns in Outlanders, souped up my word power with Word Laces and done … whatever the hell it was I did in Lifelike. (I think I was adapting alien life forms by melding their particles with others in deep space, but I just felt I was like being warmly submersed in a Pink Floyd album.)
I have attempted wacky urban planning with Mini Motorways, swung primates through rain forests in Gibbon, farted around getting frustrated with Lego in Builder’s Journey and pioneered my personage across America in The Oregon Trail. All of this for less than a fiver a month.
The irony is I had Apple Arcade for ages without using it – one of those classic modern subscriptions you buy because it sounds good but never have time to actually take advantage of. I finally started using it a few months ago because I was about to cancel it. Now it has me looking at Xbox Game Pass, wondering if that’s the one I should be defunding.
Apple Arcade introduced me to my favourite game of 2022, Marvel Snap. I never considered playing a deckbuilding game before, but it was featured on there, so I tried it. Now I’d go so far as to say it is a perfect game. Gameplay, graphics, sound, sheen? It has it all, and it’s wonderful for comic-book geeks like me, with characters and locations true to the original pages that have enraptured me since childhood.
Now the same subscription has given me what I suspect may end up being my favourite game of 2023: Pocket Card Jockey. I never thought I’d be spending my days playing a horse-racing solitaire game, but the folk who decide what games come out on Apple Arcade are geniuses. These games are also convincing me that a touch screen really is the most intuitive and versatile way of controlling games. Maybe it always was.
All these games give me pure, uncomplicated joy. And joy is hard to find these days. I play them with a smile on my face, where so many modern video games make me grimace with stress or frustration. They are also complete games, delivered whole: no need for a patch or a 10 terabyte update on day one. I am irked that Marvel Snap has the dreaded microtransactions, but you do not need to buy anything at all to be competitive in the game, which is as it should be. And it’s the first game I’ve felt I can play at a high standard online since Fifa.
Even games I don’t enjoy (I’m talking to YOU, Mutazione, and your impossible-to-find-and-place seeds!) still make me stroke my chin in appreciation at the imagination shown. I’ve not seen this standard of curated innovative entertainment since Channel 4 in the 90s.
I guess the cool kids may judge me now, secretly sticking a sign on the back of my cardigan that reads: Casual Gamer. But so what? If I am being honest, with the emotional, mental, financial and physical challenges that life throws up, I don’t know if I can be arsed investing 30 hours in a game right now. The next Fantasy might actually be my Final one. I may die before I complete Starfield. Currently I need games to fall into one of two categories: remarkable stories I can complete within a week; or games featuring superheroes, cards and/or cartoon animals that I can dip into for 10 minutes every hour.