There’s an iPhone game that I really want to tell you about, but I really don’t want to tell you its name.
It’s not that I’m trying to keep it to myself for selfish reasons, it’s just that this was how it was introduced to me. I went out one Saturday evening recently to meet a friend and asked her what she’d been up to all day. Pub lunch? Long walk? Trip to an art gallery? No, she replied angrily. She was meant to have been doing Productive Things that Didn’t Cost Money. Instead she spent all day playing an iPhone game. A simple puzzle game by nature, it had pretty, glossy graphics that looked like little sweeties, a catchy soundtrack, and she couldn’t put it down. The worst thing was, she said, that after playing for a certain amount of time, or using up a certain amount of lives, the game made her wait 20 minutes before she could have another go. Surely she could have done some Productive Things then, I suggested.
Ah, but that’s when the pretty little game sank its fangs in. “No more lives” read a little message box with a cute image with a pictures of a crying cartoon heart. “You can buy extra lives instantly to continue playing”. Extra lives cost 69p. Having spent nothing on downloading the game originally, she proceeded to spend the afternoon, and a not inconsiderable amount of money, feeding her newfound addiction.
I HAD to know what it was called. I found out. I wish I hadn’t. Within half an hour of downloading it, I was hooked. Two hours later, I was looking at the crying cartoon heart. But I was determined. I wasn’t going to join the ranks of poor chumps who’d been stiffed by charges in “freemium” games, or who’d let their children sign up to one and then found their little darling had urinated £1,000 up the wall on in-game purchases. I would be strong. But damn, it’s been hard. The game is now the best-selling title on the App Store. My friends are playing it (I swear I didn’t tell them about it) and all we do is compare its methods to the classic drug dealer business model: entice new clients in with free samples then jack up the cost as soon as they’re hooked. That, trying not to click the “buy extra lives” button, and laughing in a hollow manner at BuzzFeed lists of “The 12 stages of NAME OF GAME REDACTED addiction”.
I’m still in the game’s thrall, but I’ve yet to succumb to those lives. Of course, I tell myself, I could quite any time, but I still haven’t deleted it from my phone. Maybe I’ll make it to the next level, even though I’ve been stuck for weeks. It’s more likely I’ll do that than tell you this evil game’s name.