The Mystery of the Unvanishing Game

posted in: Opinion | 0

Ed Said: Edward Gelernt’s Comments on the World

This Week: 2048

In the age of instantaneous entertainment, technological fads tend to shift from unknown to ubiquitous with shocking speed, and ebb from popular culture just as quickly. However, the most recent App Store phenomenon, 2048, seems to have, at least to some extent, defied this trend, retaining popularity for nearly a month and counting.

Before 2048, the big thing was Flappy Bird.  That stayed popular for about two weeks, before its creator took it down.  Before Flappy Bird, there was…Candy Crush?  Fun Run?  Angry Birds?  Temple Run?  Who remembers?  So many games have flowed in and out of popularity in the last several years that it’s almost impossible to remember them all.

Exacerbating this predicament is that our collective memory as a society seems as short-lived as our capricious passions for various mobile games.  When I asked the WordsWorth staff what was Flappy Bird’s predecessor as the “fad game,” I received a plethora of answers, ranging from Candy Crush to FarmVille to Words With Friends (which is five years old).  Obviously this was not a comprehensive survey, but sixteen people in collaboration are usually able to come up with the answer to a fairly simple question. This one proved to be more difficult than it seemed.

On the other hand, the newest fad, 2048, has retained its popularity for nearly a month now.  The game requires players to combine numbered tiles to create tiles with higher numbers, with the ultimate goal of reaching a tile bearing the number 2048.  (The game tends to unwittingly instill in players a surprisingly solid knowledge of the powers of two.)  The seemingly simple task has frustrated millions of players–not in the way that they irately walk away from the game, but rather in the way that they play incessantly until victorious.

So what makes 2048 different from other popular games?  Its gameplay mirrors that of other former fads, requiring minimal thought and challenging players repeatedly with the same task.  Perhaps what keeps people going is a visible sense of accomplishment as the player sees the numbers on the tiles steadily increasing, a sense not gotten in games like Flappy Bird and Temple Run, where looking at the numerical progress marker of score is difficult while focusing on quick gameplay.  Maybe it is the definite goal set in 2048 but not existent in many other popular games.  It could be the game’s forgivingness, as one mistake ends the game in many apps but not in 2048.  Or perhaps, the most likely scenario, there simply hasn’t been another game to hit the App Store yet to take 2048’s place.

Some things never become unpopular.  Jeans and a T-shirt is never an unfashionable outfit.  Paper folders persist as many students’ way of choice for storing worksheets.  Professional sports retain their intensity and excitement from one season to the next.  Other things, particularly in the technology world, are ever-evolving.  It’s hard to go a fortnight without a new app hitting the Store and throwing a wrinkle into the entertainment universe.

In 34 years, humanity might have forgotten about the App Store and moved on to something else.  For now, we can all just play 2048 until we leave its genre behind in 2048.

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