Friday, 18 November 2011

Gaming when you're not gaming

I generally disapprove of Facebook games. They look too cutesy, encourage you to spam your friends with virtual crap and usually want you to exchange real money for virtual funds that give you a significant edge over non-paying players. However, I do have one guilty Facebook secret that has had me hooked on a daily basis for two years.

MouseHunt does fall prey to being slightly cutesy, but it has its own unique, hand-drawn art style that immediately separates it from the plastic looking, copy-and-paste-a-like anime visuals that companies like Zynga seem to be pumping out. What initially drew me to MouseHunt was that it looked different from everything else I’d seen on the out of control social network monstrosity. It didn’t look like a dress-up doll simulator, or one of the millions of Flash games I’ve played over the years. But visual individuality does not make a game good. It was the gameplay that really intrigued me.

As the name suggests, you hunt for mice in MouseHunt. You set a trap, arm it with cheese and then wait for a mouse to come along. The mice have a degree of obsessive compulsive disorder and will check out your trap every hour. Sometimes you will catch the mouse and sometimes you won’t. Mice caught give gold and points which are used to buy new equipment and level up.

The concept is really simple and may sound quite boring. The maximum interaction you can exert is commencing a manual hunt for mice every 15 minutes, and this is just a single mouse click. As such, the game cannot eat up hours of your time in big chunks. The true genius behind the game is that it lets you play it completely passively.

I think passive gaming is a brilliant concept as it allows you to enjoy reward based gameplay without actually playing. Sure, you’ll make progress quicker by keeping a very close eye on it, but you don’t have to be super active to get far.

The only other example of passive gaming I can think of is the brilliant skill system in MMO Eve Online. You don’t earn new abilities by blowing up spaceships for hours on end, but instead you simply wait for a skill to finish. If a particular ability takes one hour to learn, you can tell your character to start learning it, and then leave the game for an hour. Your character will have learned the skill upon your return.

Passive gaming is an excellent way to keep up a gaming addiction without actually having to play a game. It might sound like the gaming equivalent of taking methadone to tackle a moreish heroin habit, but it works really well. Making progress in a game without actually playing still gives you the rewarding buzz of knowing that the next level or new piece of gear is just around the corner.

Or maybe I’m just a bit mental and enjoy hunting pretend mice over Facebook a little too much.

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