Scrabulous and Starting Over: Casual and Online Games are Reinvigorating a Stale Gaming Industry

Scrabulous is an imperfect computer interpretation of Scrabble – a built-in dictionary totally negates the Challenge button – but it is a perfect example of a new, or rather re-emerging, trend in game design. Back in the day, videogames, or perhaps interactive entertainment, or computer games, were a burgeoning form of limitless possibilities.

Surrogates and Falling Blocks: The Advent of the Hardcore

During the 90s, however, games all began to run together, and even the most grotesque examples (Toe Jam & Earl, for instance) followed one basic formula: a player had a directional button and other buttons, and he used these buttons to make game-world surrogates move and perform. Gone were games like text-heavy Zork and Chris Crawford’s high school social sim, Gossip.

This explosion of games about pushing buttons to make avatars perform functions obscured the fact that a different breed of computer games were secretly out there: Solitaire, Taipei, and other games that came from elsewhere but adapted well to the computer. Some do not even consider these true games (gamers scoff at Scrabulous even now) but computer games they are, if only by virtue of the platform on which they’re presented.

The Revenge of Casual Gaming and Edutainment


Now a war rages across Facebook. Tiles stamped with letters are being hurled in challenge and defiance and victory. A game of mass appeal has exploded on the platform of the popular “social network utility,” and citizens from all across Zuckerburg’s social graph are drawing lines to one another with the addictive and simple Scrabulous.

The release of the DS has seen a return to the Old Ways. Pessimists see this as a foreboding sign, optimists as an indicator of renewal, as a chance for renaissance. Conventional games have been overwhelmed by inventions like Brain Age, which uses simple stylus pseudo-games to give the brain a daily tune-up; My French Coach, which teaches and trains in the French language; and Word Jong, which combines spelling and Mahjongg to deconstruct a precarious tower of lettered tiles by forming words. The Nintendo Wii is the DS’s rapidly-growing little sibling, with an expanding library of games based on brain exercise, rolling marbles, popular opinion and even physical fitness.

Facebook enthusiastically feeds this trend – games are popping up everywhere in unorthodox forms. With the Vampires application, a Facebook user “bites” other players, creating other vampires, and individual players garner points for number of “chumps” bitten. This causes the rank and appearance of a vampire to upgrade. Similar games exist for zombies, pirates, ninjas, and even vampire slayers to counter the Vampire app.

Users can train, equip, feed, pet, and kill rabbits with the cuddly Pets application. Mimicking old dice-based RPGs and modern iterations such as Pokemon, Pets involves hunting insects, acquiring loot, equipping sadistic weapons, armor and accessories, and defeating your friends’ bunnies in battle. With a few hours of mouse clicks and a shred of good judgment, a bunny can be a terminator-like tank of mismatched weaponry, with a quaint little “pet me” button right beside.

Any Facebook user can experience Pets, the Vampires application, Scrabulous, and a plethora of other odd game-like experiences by logging onto and searching for their various titles as you would an old classmate.

Vampire Scrabble and brainy Francophiles add up to an exciting renaissance period in games, with new ideas igniting for the sake of entertainment, education, and interaction.

Wii owners, the Everybody Votes Channel (and you are addicted to that) is a game, too. See also: the Free Rice website.

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