For approximately the last month, I have spent a disproportionate amount of time on Kongregate, one of the big homes of internet flash games (the other I personally know about being Armor Games). I often found myself there while I knew I should be doing something else. It’s not like I’m in school over break, but there are things I should do. Like read my book, file my papers, do my finances, write more things, draw more pictures…anything but waste time on Kongregate. Yet, I always found myself going there and staying while I was literally thinking I shouldn’t be staying. I wanted to examine what makes flash games so captivating, and what that says about me and my gaming style.
There are a couple of different reasons I spend so much time playing games, but I will start with the Kongregate level system and points. I know that I’m particularly susceptible to the simple allure of leveling up, so I previously decided not to care about my Kongregate level too much. This also stemmed from my initial preference of Armor Games (I had previously made a lot of progress on games on Armor Games, and I was salty that I had to start over on Kongregate. This was before Armor Games implemented a badge system). From my normal-casual Kongregate game play, I remained stagnant at level 4 for a while. When I finally admitted Kongregate was better than Armor Games (it is, except for not being an actual game publisher), I reached level 11 (I don’t remember exactly how). That’s where I picked up at the beginning of December. As usual, my return to flash games was prompted by a dry spell of boredom. I was looking for something to do to feel like I was doing something, as well as have fun, and I find flash games fun in general.
I take a short detour here to randomly note my lifelong feeling of shame for playing flash games. I have always found video games fun, and I guess I have never considered the fact that anyone could not find them fun or like them as much as I do. But I never had access to a lot of video games; a combination of internet restrictions, low computer specs, parent disapproval, and fear of asking my parents to spend money on consoles kept me locked out of “real games” for a long time. Only this past year or so, my love of video games has finally surfaced and my parents are reluctantly letting me and supporting me in playing more (I still have to ask every time I want to play LoL ><). Until now, I have found fulfillment through playing flash games. Ever since I was introduced to Achievement Unlocked, I couldn’t stop. I love jmtb02, I can name most of the big titles which are not MMORPGs, I found a particular love for TD, and horror room-escape/puzzle games scratch an itch (even though I can’t stand horror, I stand it just because I love escape puzzles so much). The achievement I count as my most impressive is beating the entire Gemcraft Labyrinth. I genuinely enjoy flash games a lot, basically. However, I never wanted to tell anyone, because it seemed like such a sissy thing (I mean, playing Papa’s Gamerias is pretty sissy, if you ask me). It felt like “fake” gaming. Flash games aren’t particularly known for having a high difficulty curve. They’re rarely multiplayer. Maybe I shouldn’t be so ashamed to just like something I like, but you can’t just go up to say, a CoD player and say, “I’m a gamer too, I play Kingdom Rush!” It just isn’t “legit”. Is it sad or valid that I’ve hidden this away for so long and been scared to tell anybody?
Anyways, back to leveling up and point systems. When I came back to Kongregate, I didn’t really have any particular games I wanted to play. However, I’m not opposed to being advertised to by the front page games, or the games badged in quests or in the Kongpanion daily badge. I mostly went around trying things like this, or maybe going back to re-beat games I had previously beat but didn’t have Kongregate badges for. If it turned out the game was not fun, I just played for five minutes until I got the easy badge I came for, and left. Or if I did like it, and the medium or hard badges didn’t seem too bad, I kept playing until I achieved those. It’s a testament to say that the games that kept me past achieving all the badges were the good ones. But even more captivating was the fact that I was earning more badges for my profile and earning points towards leveling up. After playing the daily badge a couple days in a row, I was even motivated to return to get the shiny version of a Kongpanion (it might be my first?). I am not usually motivated to achieve shiny version, but something about being accidentally halfway already made me want to come back to finish it.
And Kongpanions aren’t even worth anything; there’s something about them eventually appearing in games, but I think that’s still very uncommon. Previously I only visited Kongregate when I saw a particularly cute one in the newsletter to quickly collect it for my profile forever. But otherwise, they’re basically worthless. I can go back and look at the sprites, that’s it. It doesn’t give me any sense of regret for spending time on earning them, nor any sense of achievement. So why do I have to get it? Well, I don’t, which is what I normally tell myself, but something about being 3-4 badges in that week made me really want the shiny version. But it’s true that I don’t really care about Kongpanions.
Then I notice my level is quickly climbing due to my badge farming. I’m at 16, and my badge looks actually competitive in chatrooms. Maybe I can reach 30, which I consider somewhat prestigious. Besides this, leveling up makes me feel good. Each time the number gets bigger, some amount of prestige gets added to my name (which, by the way, is my old username and not bTackt, which makes me a little bit sad because Kong doesn’t allow name changes). It feels nice to see my level climb. But I would argue that this doesn’t ultimately motivate me to keep playing more and more. It does bring me gratification to see it grow, though.
So if it’s definitely not Kongpanions, and probably not leveling up, how about badges? It is pretty fun to scroll through my badges and walk through memories of all the games I’ve played, and all the fun and hard things I have done and achieved. I also finally finished the “Your First Quest” quest, so now I have a shiny medal on my profile, which is pretty cool, and that makes me want to finish the “Beginner” quest (somehow I have not yet). Then I could have another easy medal. Also, every time I see a badge that belongs to a “Best of” quest, I am immediately more motivated to get it. There’s more value in it. So maybe it’s easy things. If something is not finished, but relatively simple to get, I will take the effort to finish it out. Notice that simple =/= takes a trivial amount of time, but anything to have the finished feeling. I think this may be key #1. I will bold it. If something is not finished, but almost finished and simple to finish, I will take the effort to finish it. So yes, badges are part of a larger motivation. Badges ultimately make a game more motivating to play than one without. In fact, unless the game is extremely good/alluring, I feel like I’m wasting my time playing a game without badges. It’s inefficient, see. I could be getting badges and points with the same time. I want to be earning as much as possible for the same amount of time.
That leads into a second possible motivation: efficiency. There are a number of games which I play a lot which utilize some version of an “energy” mechanic: you have a certain amount of energy to spend on playing, but once you have used it all, you must wait for it to replenish and return to use more of it. It’s a tried and true mechanic: if you need to achieve something but lose the means to do so, the game’s best way of keeping you around is to only allow you to achieve that thing if you return later, and so on, in a loop. So for people like me who enjoy F2P games but will not pay, they grow a fixation on efficiency. Once I’ve used all of my energy, any time I believe it’s refilled, I need to return in order to not waste it–I can only regenerate more if my reservoir is not full. And so I go back and back, because I have this semi-consciousness that it’s not efficient to stay there waiting for more energy all the time, but it is efficient to return and empty it when it is full, and I need to keep progressing in the game and leveling up and getting more achievements and completing quests. The worst part, however, is that each time I come to empty my energy reservoir, it is not a quick, short thing, unless I compromise “free” rewards. It takes a while–a lot of minutes. That’s where it starts to hurt me: I feel as if I’m doing the least I can, yet the least is a lot. Admittedly, I am able to pull myself away from Bush Whacker 2 (pleaseeee don’t laugh) because the story is so long and the game is quite repetitive and one of the only motivations is to compare yourself to others, hundreds of whom are already at a unattainable max level (unattainable unless you are ready to have absolutely no life/pay). A new game that sucked me in recently is Tower Keepers, which kept me captive for a couple weeks straight until just a couple days ago, when I realized I’m reaching a hard point in the game where I need leveling up to continue beating quests, but grinding levels is extremely slow at this point. So I’m losing interest and peeling away.
I also love to feel like I’ve bested something. Which games did I play in this past month that I really, really loved enough to completely finish? And why did I spend all the time on it?
- Defender’s Quest [extended demo]. I’m really not sure what particularly appealed to me about this game, but it was just too long and not long enough, and it was still short enough for me to complete the demo and re-beat all levels on all three difficulty settings. Something about unlocking heroes with new powers, leveling them up, specializing them in skill points, equipping armor and weapons, discovering quests weapons…and the game was short enough that I didn’t feel guilty spending the time to complete it (although I actually did spend a lot of time); it was gratifying to have beaten the whole thing through and through.
- Hat Wizard. This game had only 18 levels and they were no problem, pretty easy and interesting puzzle concept to enjoy solving. However, there was a bonus challenge level. And it was infuriating. I probably spent over an hour on that the first day I tried it, and then came back the next day to beat it in a nontrivial amount of time. Why did I do it? Firstly, because it seemed beatable but I felt not good enough and to keep trying until I became good enough to beat it. Secondly, because the Kong badge required you to beat the challenge level. Thirdly, because it would make me feel so good to have finished it. I am proud. But was it worth spending the time on?
- BioGems. This was sort of Candy Crush meets Pokemon, and I liked the concept. For some reason I’m fundamentally against Candy Crush-style games but the mechanics were interesting enough that I was motivated to keep playing. There were also not very many levels (12?) so I felt like I had to finish once I was halfway through. Until the boss level. Which was so unfair, and I’m pretty sure, unbalanced, and also half based on luck, and whether you could have your defense up all the time, and whether you could have your counter up at the exact moment he launched a huge attack at you…I played that level way too many times and lost to bad luck. I actually thought I’d never win, but once I randomly won somehow. I know that I am averse to boss fights as a character trait, but I’m also averse to leaving something unfinished like that with one level left.
- Continuity. I loved this game inside and out. It was a true puzzle game, clean art and concept, and challenging. Yet…it is to be admitted that I love games that seem challenging but are truly beatable. Which I guess Continuity was… Anyways, it just felt like a kind of puzzle that I could really get with, and I wanted to just keep getting new ones, and there was just the right amount of them that when I beat the game it felt right. And I got a Kong badge. :thinking:
- Elephant Quest. Look, I just can’t deny jmtb02 his blue elephant. And also I don’t know why I never played this game before. The map was kind of big, forcing me to waste time running around in one-way loops to get to stuff, but it was a very fun platformer in jmtb02 style, and of course I have to beat all the quests and the final game, and use whatever time it took to do that. (I wonder what it would look like if Kongregate actually logged how much time you spent on certain games.)
- Fancy Pants 2. This game doesn’t actually belong with this list, because I quit after the easy badge, but I appreciated it. It was very thought-through design and seemed like a good game. However, something in me didn’t really connect with the style, besides that it projected itself as somewhat of a long game, with time-consuming challenges were I to go through and complete every side quest/achievement. And just because it seemed a tad too challenging and too long overall, I didn’t go through with it.
So…these were mostly games that were a. “challenging” but totally beatable b. probably fresh, interesting game mechanic and c. on the short side. If this self-inspection essay is about trying to get me to cut back on games, what do I do? Not spend time on these? But these games are so hard to find…the good ones… Probably what I have to do is be more aware about letting myself go ham on these, and instead restrict myself to a certain amount of time each day or every few days, instead of going for an un-predetermined amount of time on some random day when I should be doing scheduled/more important things.
Here’s another big shame: idle games. Which are all about generating maximum efficiency in order to power yourself to further efficient-ize your efficiency, and so on. Clicker Heroes is the one I have been doing recently, but ultimately what drives me is the achievement page. If I can achieve the achievements, then I feel like I’ve bested the game. (I wonder how much of this stems from my first exposure being AU; something about meta-gaming achievements is so, so appealing to me, and I wonder if that’s something in me that matched up with AU, or if AU put that in me from the start). And I realize that idle games are probably even more shameful than the MMOs that grown adults sit around and click all day, but why do we like to play them? It’s because it deceives you into feeling like you’re accomplishing things while you’re actually doing nothing. If you’re not playing the game, you’re still getting more money. You’re still progressing in the game in general. To some extent, the puzzle challenge of creating the most efficiency is enjoyable. But the deceptive basis of the game is the worst part. Back to Tower Keepers–I don’t really care at all what’s in those chests I keep unlocking as long as I keep unlocking them. What does that say about me? On the other hand, I don’t care for PvP very much because I don’t like interaction with other players very much, besides that usually some other try-hards are just way better than you because they have no life and I’m not willing to have no life just to be better than others…I just want the game to reward me.
There was also something in Tower Keepers that is related to this creative challenge that idle games present. Something interesting that made this RPG unique is the special challenge of designing a challenge level that others are unable to beat. Of course, though, in order to have the resources to build something powerful enough, you have to keep playing and looting. That’s weird, I just realized: that’s a tower defense.
Man, this was so disorganized. In the end, I want to know, how do I remedy myself? How do I stop myself from playing so much flash games when I shouldn’t be, and I should be writing, or reading, or filing my papers? Firstly, I need to recognize that in-game achievements are just that; narrow constructs to make me believe I need to complete something. That’s not going to stop me from wanting to complete them, though, or games that I am nearly through that I just want to tie off. Honestly, I don’t think I can argue myself out of playing games, is my conclusion. This sucks. But it does mean that the only measure I can take is careful self-restriction to how much time I can spend on it per day, and I need to more consciously choose not to play games as a substitute for doing what I am supposed to do, because it is telling me I’m achieving things when I’m truly not. When going back in to use up energy, don’t spend all the time it takes to use it all up, count that time and restrict yourself and just miss out on free stuff, you have to, and for goodness’ sake don’t do it multiple times a day.
Anyways, playing flash games is lame and sissy grow up and play REAL games
So, if you haven’t noticed, I have an awful track record of accomplishing my self-imposed goals in real life. When faced with my dream of days and days of unrestricted free time, I tend to waste it instead of accomplishing the projects I complain I never have the time to complete. So I did nothing other than use the knowledge that I get off to leveling up and gathering points and xp against myself, and created a real-life RPG in which I must complete tasks and form habits in order to keep leveling up and earning video game/YouTube time. And finishing the boss level of Portal (no prob, but I’m putting it off) is half a gold star, and beating the boss level and bonus level of Papa Louie 2 was half a gold star (:thinking: is that ironic). I want to know why HabitRPG doesn’t work on me but this real life version seems to be working, because it thoroughly doesn’t work on me (although I did log on for the first time in almost two years and it seems massively improved from the unworkable thing it was before).
On an unrelated note, here are my flash game recommendations. I think either puzzle escape or tower defense is definitely my favorite non-MMO (I still hate that I play those but I do) flash game genre, although I feel like I’ve already played all the best tower defenses (except Bloons, I hate Bloons) and there’s little to nothing left in that genre. Other outstanding things I loved included AU2 (the best balance between AU1 which is scary the first time and then becomes a speedrunning game and AU3 which was just overkill), Rusty Lake series, and obviously my favorite two TDs, Gemcraft Labyrinth and the Kingdom Rush series. Favorite two individual creators in particular are jmtb02 and bontegames.