I've never dispatched a wrathful bird to destroy a pig. Sometime around 2010, I blocked FarmVille et al. from my Facebook News Feed and never looked back. But last week I stayed up an hour past my bedtime because I thought I had the Dots "hot hand."
A good fifth or sixth of the rainy weekend was also spent with rictus of the forearm trying, unsuccessfully, to beat another tech blogger's high score.
The game is the Platonic ideal of retro-futurism—a clean, candy-colored interface that demands Tetris-style spatial reasoning inside the tech world's newfound obsession with flat design. The object of the game is to connect dots of the same color and eliminate them from the board. It makes old school bleep-bloops when you swipe your finger to connect them. And, oh oh, is it pretty. Pretty, pretty, so pretty.
The game was created by Patrick Moberg, who once captivated a city with his fameball-era search for a manic pixie dream girl he spotted aboard the 5 train. Moberg is now a hacker-in-residence at Betaworks, a New York City-based studio responsible for resurrecting Digg and soon Google Reader. Dots launched at the start of the month and, as of last week, already had 2 million downloads and a super fan in blogging-capitalist Michael Arrington.
The best strategy is to just try to make squares. Once you make a square, all dots of the same color disappear from the board with a reaffirming vibration (good dog, you get a bone) of your phone. I ignored Quartz's excellent, comprehensive guide on the topic for a week, swiping around like a noob making fanciful Little Dippers and rectangles, being an independent woman, and refusing to spend the 30,000 "dots" I had accumulated on "power-ups" because I thought it was cheating.
But my desire to beat all the braggy fuckers tweeting their Dots trophies made me cave. (If you're prone to competitiveness, ignore the in-app leaderboard that shows you how you rank against your Twitter and Facebook friends.)
It worked. I adopted a monomania for manufacturing squares, started using "shrinkers" to zap unwanted dots, and got my high score up by 100 points. But I missed the carefree, losing spirit with which I had once approached Dots.
"How can an app game be sustainable and not just peak and die?" asked a friend recently, after quitting Dots because it gave him too much anxiety. In the hits-driven mobile gaming industry, he said, "You can't franchise a game without a storyline."
I think the absence of narrative is what will keep Dots alive, a little longer at least, than the hivemind's attention span. Playing the game evokes the same taut mindlessness as being on the Internet all day. It lets you trick yourself into thinking you can multitask or watch subtitled Danish political dramas while playing. (You cannot.) You start hearing faint, phantom bleeps when your phone is buried under the covers.
On the other hand, maybe Zynga will acquire the whole shebang and find a way to make everyone stop caring before you can say update 3.0.
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