You read a lot in the mainstream press about video game addiction. I don’t know if my relationship with PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz actually constitutes addiction, but I do know that, in the interests of me doing any work and earning some money, it’s time to step away from this game.
This is a weird one for me because Bejeweled Blitz is the last game I’d ever thought would put the hook into me – mainly because, as its creators have said, it’s aimed at soccer moms. I’m not a soccer mom (I think!), but I’ve become alarmingly attached it over the last three month.
This isn’t the first game I’ve latched onto in an unhealthy way. I put the hours in on WOW, but was able to snap off the PC. I trundled around the trenches of MW2 until I prestiged, but I was able to escape from its clutches eventually. I sunk 100 + hours into Batman: Arkham City, but now I’m only after the Achievements. I have to think twice before installing Crackdown, Borderlands or Skyrim on my console, but once again, these are games I played out at some stage.
None of them have had the Rasputin-like hold over me that Bejeweled Blitz currently has. It’s insane, it really is. I play this game on a daily basis and can quite cheerfully sink hours into it. I once lost all feeling in my feet when I played it while barefoot in my kitchen in the dead of winter. This is remarkable, when you consider that Bejeweled Blitz only lasts for a minute at a time.
If you’ve never played it, Bejeweled Blitz works like a speed-run of Bejeweled, PopCap’s first hunk of mega-selling digital crack. In it, players have to get rid of line of coloured jewels by matching them up three at a time. Match four and you create an exploding gem. Match five and you create a gem capable of wiping out an entire raft of similar gems. In Blitz, players rack up a score based on how many gems they clear off the board, and they’re able to ramp this up by causing multiple cascades of gems, which earn them multiplyers.
They’re also, in the one aspect of the game that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, able to buy special gems to increase their gem-destroying prowess. Bejeweled Blitz is free to download and play, so in order for PopCap and EA to make some money back they’ve plugged a coin counting feature into the game. Each round earns the player coins: they get 100 coins for every multiplyer in play and every yellow coin gem they get rid of. A typical round can net you anywhere between 100 and 700 coins on average. That doesn’t sound bad until you take stock of the fact that the cheapest power gem is 10,000 coins and the most expensive is 75,000. The choice is simple. Grind away or crack open your wallet and buy in-game coins with your real-world money.
I don’t hold with monetised content like this. I have no problem with games companies making money, you understand. It’s just that I think your score in a game should reflect your skill level and the hours you’ve put into it. I don’t like the idea that a player is better able to rack up a top score based on the amount of real-world money they have.
Here’s how addictive Bejeweled Blitz is: I’ve actually contemplated buying in-game coins in it. I feel dirty after writing that.
Here’s the thing, though, PopCap, either by design or by accident have made me feel a little better by plugging Blitz into Facebook, allowing me to see how many of my mates are as addicted to this game as I am. And wouldn’t you know, right at the top of the list on a regular basis is a mate of mine from University… who happens to be a mother of two… one of whom plays soccer.