*by Norman Fulkerson
The thing which man most desires in this life is happiness. Yet it is the most illusive of treasures. This is due, in large part, to modern man’s agitated spirit and insatiable craving for instant gratification.
This can be seen in a new mobile device games craze. Things have come a long way since the Angry Birds sensation which became a cultural phenomenon. For a measly 99 cents it was yours, no strings attached; with the exception of the one which kept the player tethered to their smart phone for hours on end.
Mobile-game designers have gotten smarter than even their client’s phone. They now produce what appears to be free fun with more alluring role playing games. Once hooked you suddenly realize how true is the age-old adage “nothing in life is free.”
Perhaps none is more enticing and popular than Clash of Clans which allows a player to have his own village within a particular clan. The fun part for those who choose this particular mode of distraction are the wars that are waged with rival clans. Since some of these imaginary clashes take place in minutes, players can crush their opponents during those frequent lulls in a person’s day.
One man was so obsessed with the game he literally wrapped his iPad in plastic and continued waging his virtual war while taking a shower.
This game is so engaging the creators even provide what amounts to a Surgeon General’s Warning if you have been on for 24 hours straight. But just as the label on a cigarette package ─ which no one reads ─ the Clan-fanatic is more likely to avoid the suggestion to stop with the same indifference. Paraphrasing the cigarette addict, it could be said of them, “If you got ’em, play ’em.”
Practice Patience or Pay
There will always be people to defend such apparently harmless amusements. For example, reformed cocaine addicts have given testimony of their ability to get off the white powder by playing Clash of Clans. One such man, whose wife left him over his drug addiction, describes being able to kick the habit after only fifteen minutes of play time. “I know my wife’s not coming back,” he says, “but at least I have my clan to keep me company.”
Not surprisingly many of the Clash of Clans game designers were drug abusers themselves who have simply “channeled that seedy lifestyle into a game.” Now they are drawing dividends from those incapable of going without a different kind of “high.” Whereas Clash of Clans provides increments of free fun, players can speed up the process of village building by purchasing such things as virtual gems with real world money.
The Candy Crush Saga puzzle game, another wildly popular diversion from reality, uses a similar tactic. After the initial free download players can enjoy free turns. The problem occurs when the free turns run out. Players are thus presented with two choices. They can either wait twenty minutes for the next free turn or fork out 99 cents for five more turns, immediately.
This “wait or pay” tactic can be excruciatingly painful for the game addicts. Not surprisingly many will inevitably cave in to temptation.
With the help of game analytics provider Gondola, which has “analyzed 90 million players,” game developers are snaring what a recent Wall Street Journal article aptly termed “whales.” Through the information provided by Gondola they are able to keep the customer engaged by lowering the cost for a particular customer through their “dynamic pricing engine.” The cost of “weapons” or “in-game currency” is conveniently adjusted to the individual. Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga are but two examples of mobile-games which have now become a profitable way for some to make a very easy living off the vice of others, and there are many.
What begins with pennies ends up being $50 to $100 a month for the coveted “whales.” While they only make up less than 3% of gamers, the total dollar amount for those paying for virtual fun items is staggering. In the US alone $1.51 billion was spent last year by those who could not wait for their next fix. Worldwide in-game purchases are expected to top 23 billion this year.
Happiness Finds Us
This is obviously not just an economic problem however, it is also spiritual. The addictive aspect of such meaningless distractions is but one example of what John Horvat defines in his book Return to Order as “frenetic intemperance.” Pounding virtual opponents in Clash of Clans might satisfy a disordered passion but those glued to their phones miss the thing which brings most happiness in this life. It is what Mr. Horvat defines as the sublime; a form of excellence that inspires awe. Such things can be found throughout the created universe and cause the observer to exclaim, “Wow!”
This is exactly where the mobile-game addicts are being sadly misled. They imagine they can find happiness whereas true happiness is something that finds us, if we are patient. Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best: “Happiness is like a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
It is more than a bit ironic that the inspiration for this article came while visiting the Hawaiian Islands which are veritable jewel boxes God placed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is called the “Rainbow State” because of the frequent appearance of multicolored arches produced by the Divine brush.
They are but one of the marvels placed within the fingertips of a now frenetically intemperate mankind that often go unseen and, oh, how sad, unappreciated. The greatest joys in life, and the ones we most often remember, are those which we did not expect to find. This is unendurable for the intemperate who would rather pay for that which distracts rather than wait for the sublime.