Are you having fun yet?

With each and every tap of my finger a little Viking springs into existence and begins attacking the first thing in his path. What is my reward for this marvellous feat of creation? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Well technically I get some gold coins and a quantity of purple stuff, which I imagine is manna of some description. But as I sit here on the train, bent double over my phone mindlessly tapping away at Clash of Clans (Clash of Clans, 2013), I’m struggling to explain to myself why?

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Figure 1: (Supercell, 2013)

In moments of introspection like this, I’m forced to look up from my phone and participate in the world around me. And to acknowledge that I am not a Norse God, that I’m actually on a slow train out of Melbourne headed towards the outer suburbs. That I am sitting uncomfortably next to a guy who smells like McDonald’s and that there are two young girls sitting adjacent to me, doing their best to make a scene as they pass a goon-bag back and forth between one another.

But in an instant this brief foray into reality is disrupted by the bleep-bleep of my phone. Before I even know what I’m doing I have completely lost focus on what is happening in the real world and I have dissolved into the Zen bliss of mindless repetition.
To begin with I upgrade a building, and then I attack another clan. In doing so I take their resources, I then use those resources to create new troops. Troops who will in about twenty minutes time be ready for battle. Causing my phone to bleep again, me to lose track of what I am doing in the real world and the whole cycle to repeat itself again.

You are probably asking yourself, what exactly is fun about that? Well I hope you are, because I know I am. It’s as if this game has taken key elements from games that I have genuinely enjoyed playing:  elements like the clan warfare of the Massively Multilayer Browser based game Utopia (Utopia, 1999), the cartoonish charm of the early Warcraft (Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1994) series and the childish kick I used to get out of turning Command & Conquer (Command & Conquer, 1995) maps into gigantic fortified cities. Placed all of those elements into a jar of Marketing Executive blood, then let that sit for ten days under framed pictures of the guys who invented the Poker Machine and the Pet Rock– shake well and, voilà, you have Clash of Clans.

I come from a reasonably low socio-economic area, the kind of place where micro finances is just thought of as regular finance. The two girls sharing the bag of cask wine are a reasonably common sight. In fact it’s a surprisingly accurate way of determining how close to home I am. I look up from my phone and quickly calculate a normal person to dero ratio in my head – 90% dero, ok almost home. But is what I am doing, sitting here joylessly taping away at Clash of Clans, any different to various compulsive habits likely shared by the other 10 people sitting in this carriage?

Take the guy next to me, the one that stinks of Big Mac, he is reading the horse racing section of a discarded newspaper. Assuming I haven’t completely misjudged the situation and this gentleman just really enjoys reading about horses, he and I have something in common. In that you don’t technically have to spend money to enjoy horse racing, but it sure as hell helps!

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Figure 2: (Supercell, 2014)

The same goes for the two teenage girls sloshed out of their minds on cheap white wine. I bet that in the morning they are going to have a hard time explaining to themselves why they chose to waste their benefits on booze. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to sharing that same sober weight of bewilderment, that sense of le petite mort, every time I hear my phone bleep and watch my hand inevitably reach out to answer the call of Clash of Clans.

I must say though, the game is very pretty. Indeed the more you play it and the more you upgrade your buildings and troops the more dazzling the graphics. This levelling-up towards new heights of extravagance is a mechanic common to most Role Playing Games (RPGs), in that it incentivises the player to invest time/money. Though Clash of Clans takes this one step further, with the combination of geometric patterns and an increasingly over stimulating colour pallet.
Indeed an easy way to visualize the manner in which colour is used to stimulate a player of Clash of Clans, would be to imagine you are facing the spinning dials and flashing lights of a full bank of poker machines. Now imagine that as the dials on any two of the machines stop, tiny little men flood out and into their neighbour where they explode into purple manna and the machine starts spitting out shiny gold coins. The dials of each machine start spinning asynchronously, while little men continue running from one machine to another. All the while floods of purple manna and torrents of gold spill out across the floor, only to disappear just in time to make way for the next wave of purple and gold.

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Figure 3: (oleh, 2013)

So yes, I think I can safely acknowledge that the game is stimulating; it’s just stimulating in a slightly sinister and manipulative way.  And although Supercell the developers of Clash of Clans have done a really great job of hiding the fact that they want your money. There is still that nagging sense that unless I cough up some real currency, well I may as well be at the races just watching the horses go around and around.

Where this game really pays off for Supercell is when it is paired with an addictive personality. With someone for whom the giddy thrill of not having to wait like everyone else will compel them to fork out the cash. Not once, but again and again, as they too dissolve into the bliss of repetition. – You might be thinking, what is the harm in that, it’s just micro finance right? But like I said, where I live micro finance isn’t quite so micro. $50 is the difference between the kids having lunch this week or the credit card bill being paid.

My train has finally reached the end of the line and it’s time for me to get off. It’s a seriously crumby station, although they once filmed a scene from a Hollywood movie starring Gregory Peck called On the Beach (On the Beach, 1859) here about fifty years ago – the film was about the end of the world.

As I step onto the platform I am greeted by a trio of wiry youths with their habitual baggy clothes, lips clamped onto cigarettes like cats sphincters and unwelcoming aggressive postures. I walk past them and look through a dirty Perspex screen out onto the main street. I notice a new short-term credit agency that I hadn’t seen before. It is nestled amongst the other financial administrators and general bankruptcy mongers. It’s impossible to grow up here and not be weary of addiction and poverty.
For me this dalliance with Clash of Clans will have been harmless. But I only need to look around me to realise that others might not be so lucky. Indeed it’s frightening to think that while I was raised on text adventure games the youth of today are tapping away at these mutant-poker-machines during their developmental prime.
I recently read about two young boys in Canada that racked up a $3000 debt playing Clash of Clans. I thought to myself, money like that would destroy a family in this town. (Taibi, 2013)

As I turn to exit the station I am confronted by a man standing in front of a large banner, he is attempting to hand out flyers to commuters as they pass by. The banner is all black with bold white text reading ‘$5,777,777.77 lost to Poker Machines in this town’.
I’m tempted to stop and point out to him that the ‘.77’ cents is really hurting the credibility of the statistics on his sign-age. But just as I prepare to avoid eye contact and ignore this gentleman, I have a flyer thrust into my hand. I look down at the piece of paper; it features the image of a woman covering her face with her hands. Printed across that image in bold black type are the words ‘Are you having fun yet?’

Bleep-bleep, my phone vibrates in my pocket. Its Clash of Clans, my troops must be ready.

 

Clash of Clans. 2013. [Video Game] Finland: Supercell.

Command & Conquer. 1995. [Video Game] Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Westwood Studios.

Gillen K 2004, The New Games Journalism, viewed 17 June, 2007: http://www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/ngj.html Newman J 2004, [Video Game], Routledge, London and New York

oleh, D., 2013. Base Defense & Farming TH Lv 6 & 7. [Art] (konsultancoc.blogspot.com.au).

On the Beach, 1859. [Film] Stanley Kramer, USA: Dans Une Production.

Supercell, 2013. Logo & Banner Art. [Art] (www.supercell.net).

Supercell, 2014. Gem Market. [Art] (Clash of Clans (Screen Shot)).

Taibi, C., 2013. huffingtonpost. [Online]
Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/23/3000-itunes-bill_n_3640842.html
[Accessed 15 March 2014].

Utopia. 1999. [Video Game] Dublin, Ireland: Swirve.com.

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. 1994. [Video Game] Irvine, California, USA: Blizzard Entertainment.

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