Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Very Brindle Christmas

This article was jointly written by John and Jimmy Brindle.

How does your family spend Christmas? Eating a huge dinner whose duties are passed slowly down from generation to generation? Guiltylessly zombifying with well-stuffed stomachs before a blazing TV? Perhaps you all go out for a walk along the spine of a nearby hill and reflect upon the changing landscape. Whatever it is, I’m sure you have your way of doing things. That’s nice. We Brindles spent each festive season ritually fighting and betraying one another.

Tom Brindle, alias ‘Dad’, was ahead of his time. When he wasn’t collecting incapacity benefits under 14 different aliases or undergoing torturous experimental treatments, he funded his ever-growing family as a ‘Future Consultant’ for the games industry. Many tropes and trends of the noughties had their origins in the Skinnerian laboratory that was our childhood – and just as many died there. But of all his experiments, we will never forget that winter when he and Ma came up with a plan to gamify Christmas.

The rules were simple: three teams would compete in three separate areas of Christmas preparations, with one handling the tree and decorations, one cooking the dinner, and one mixing the drinks (a task very much the equal of the others in the Brindle household). Each would follow a list of objectives laid out by Tom and carefully balanced by Ma, specifying in what fashion they were to complete their duties.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Automatic Gardens

If a game makes me spend hours playing and there’s nobody to make money from it, am I being exploited? Such are the deep and ponderous questions found in the Zen Garden of Plants vs. Zombies. It was my strange fate to become obsessed with this seemingly pointless but actually mysterious time-sink minigame – and to wonder why a game would offer automation as its ultimate reward.

Things start simply. Halfway through the main Adventure mode of PvZ, you’re introduced to the Garden and given a potted plant to grow there. Plop it down and it’ll start popping out coins every thirty seconds. Click on the coin, enjoy the satisfying tinkle of acquisition, wait another thirty seconds, and repeat – for hours, if that’s your idea of fun. It’s like a skinner box, except nobody’s watching and the scientists have hit the pub.