Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Towering Defenses

Tower

I immediately liked Plants vs. Zombies when I discovered it after getting a tablet. I liked the animation and the pace of the game. It’s nicely balanced for me. Not too easy, not too hard.

It’s the kind of game that has always appealed to me, having to do with… resource management? Earning points or dollars or whatever and making decisions on what to build in order to… what? I wouldn’t have known how to describe the appeal, exactly, but then I saw it described in Wikipedia as a “tower defense” game. That short label suggested so much about what it was I liked.

Wikipedia says, “Tower defense is a subgenre of real-time strategy computer games.” I think it gets to my favorite part of the real-time strategy games I used to play, like Warcraft and Starcraft. Managing the resources and building things up and then seeing the action unfold.

With Plants, there’s a lot of satisfaction with arranging things sustainably and watching your defenses devour the attackers. Not that you want it to be too easy. That would be boring, of course. You want a challenge, and you want to have something to do while playing, but you also want to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your brilliant resource management and defensive placements.

So that’s Plants. It hasn’t been too much of a distraction. Having it on the tablet means I can save it more for “in between” times and other non-working moments. It doesn’t ambush me when I’m “at the computer” with Important Things to do. (Not anymore. Not since making it through the first time.)

Yesterday morning I noticed a recent Jason Kottke post about Kingdom Rush:

I was addicted to this tower defense game awhile back as an in-browser Flash game, but the iPad version is even better. It’s like the iPad was made for games like these. (thx, jim)

ps. Can you hear that sound? That’s Kingdom Rush sucking all your free time away this weekend. You’re welcome.

Well.

Seeing the words “tower defense” activated an internal call to battle that obliterated all the flimsy defensive towers in my brain. Fortunately I didn’t see this on Friday when posted. It only managed to suck away my Sunday. I probably played this thing for a total of seven hours yesterday. I say “probably” because the nature of the time-suck vortex was as vague as it was consuming. Much of the time was spent stuck on one level. It started feeling like a job, although the time passed much faster than in any job I’ve ever had. I think I was enjoying it, even as I felt increasingly empty and desperate inside.

I managed to get a solid two hours of playing time in before my five-year-old daughter woke up. She was interested to see the new game, but she called me down for breakfast, after which we played at other things for a couple of hours, with my thoughts on Kingdom Rush and looking forward and fearing my return to it.

Then she got together with her neighbor friend, so I finally returned, unhindered at last by child-neglect guilt. And I played all afternoon and into the evening, and I felt generally bad about the whole thing.

For one thing, I was stuck on that damn level. I had sailed through several levels before getting mired at Stormcloud Temple, overrun repeatedly by enemy hordes. It takes almost a half hour to get through the whole scenario, although I didn’t get to the end the first several tries, being slow to adjust my losing strategy. Finally I watched a video on YouTube to get a clue. Just the beginning, at first. That helped me start getting deeper into the level and wasting even more time.

And I had other help.

Sam brought her friend into the office to show him the new game. He liked it, but they moved on before long. Then they came back. Sam wanted to sit on my lap while her friend pressed up against my mouse arm and made me nervous that he might knock over a glass of water sitting nearby that I didn’t want to be so picky and untrusting as to move or nag him about it. Sam picked up her My Little Pony brush that I’ve been using on my goatee and started brushing my beard hairs. The dog showed up and found a perfect opportunity to troll for attention from three people at once, with much jostling and tail wagging.

It wasn’t so bad, though. I like that she wants to be around me and isn’t ashamed of me around her friends, even with this outrageous goatee. Then she wanted to move on to something else but her friend didn’t, so to help her out I shooed them both out of the room and closed the door. And kept playing.

After a while — minutes? hours? days? — I heard the door open, and, “Yep. He’s still playing.” They wanted to come in and watch some more, and so again with my daughter on my lap and the beard brushing, and the friend hanging over my mouse elbow.

I commented about my troubles with the level, and Sam said, “Keep trying, Dad. Don’t give up!”

And they moved on again.

And I continued to feel desperate. Sundays are never good, with Monday and the return to work standing on the other side of midnight. With this, I had the feeling of letting something get away. Just with this one day of giving in to complete gaming idleness. The time passed alarmingly fast, and I was doing nothing to further my writing ambition. That whole thing seemed dead, stuck through with the sword of an invading goblin. It felt like a surrender to go with all the defeats in the game.

I finally got to the big boss at the end of the level, and though I felt well-fortified and ready, he marched through and I was crushed yet again. Now I skimmed through the rest of the strategy video to see how that guy did it, and I emulated his approach more, and was defeated yet again.

I was beginning to dislike the game.

Sam was home from her friend’s and it was time for dinner and other stuff. But then I had to try again at her bedtime. She sat on my lap for the finale and she and Kathy both watched me suffer yet another pummeling at the hands of the super Yeti. It was close, this time, but not that close. I said, “Oh, man, I spent so many hours at this today.” Sam said, “I don’t think you should try again tonight, Dad.” Agreed.

I went to bed not long after, and my mind was too active to get right to sleep, my thoughts full of all the relentless attacking and defending of the day. I knew I’d be having dreams about the stupid thing. I wasn’t especially frustrated, though. Just… worn out. Fatigued. I decided maybe this was okay. Maybe I’d had enough of the game. Maybe it would save me time in the long run to have done this. I didn’t need to play anymore. I would not play anymore.

I slept all right, spared from the kinds of tedious dreams you sometimes get from a day of obsessive repetition. This morning I sat down at my computer with about a half hour of time. And I started thinking…

It’s enough time to try Stormcloud Temple again.

And I did. Of course.

And that frigging Yeti, “J.T.”, was so close to going down. One more cannon shot from a nearby tower might have finished him… but… no.

Defeat. Again.

And it was time to leave for work. Depressing.

But I determined that I wouldn’t surrender my writing. I would still write and post. I’m even doing it before playing again. And I must play again. I will defeat J.T.

And, look! There is time to play before dinner if I post this thing without carefully editing it or stepping back to see if it makes any sense. I can always upgrade it later, like my towers.