Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Most Relaxing Game of the Decade

I've been wondering what would prompt me to begin my blog anew.  There are many fantastic titles looking set to rear their heads this coming year, but nothing I have lately seen gave me inspiration to write about it.  Really, I need to convert the things I've seen and played into general writing-related posts to preserve the dignity of those so afflicted, but that's for another post, and another time.

I have so far found my game of 2011, and it's a surprise to me, by far.  An old game with new modes, and a Christmas gift to boot, I find myself particularly entranced by Bejeweled 3.

Given the heads-up by an avid fan, I headed immediately to Zen Mode upon installation, to find a genuine surprise.  There are options to be used here, many of them - Zen Mode offers a breathing timer (inhale, exhale) with variable speeds, white noise (in many forms from ocean waves to rain on tree leaves) and positive affirmations to help you with anything from weight loss to general positive thinking.

While I quite like meditation, I doubted anything so frenetic as Bejeweled could lull me into such a relaxed state of mind, but I was pleasantly surprised.  After I turned off the explosions and creepy voices that were intruding on my calm, I found myself actually entering a state of flow.  That in itself is scary enough, but to find that the breathing rhythm set by the game is continued in the transition between levels, so you don't have to miss a breath is... well, impressive.

After playing Zen mode for a while - and actually feeling more calm in relation to things other than Bejeweled, as well - I unlocked Butterflies, which was my original goal.  I was simply told that I had to unlock it and play, so play I did.

Goodness, but Bejeweled has come a long way.

The butterflies are squashed versions of the gems, with wings, that flutter up the board each time you make a move.  You have to keep them from being eaten by the spider.  When they get within two spaces, they start to shake, as if they're afraid.  I don't think I've ever cared so much about those little gems.  I don't know what will happen in the event that I'm unable to save one of those dear anthropomorphic matchables, but I imagine it will be a 'New Game' moment.

Which all brings me to really, the point of this - I support Gameful, the secret game HQ for making games that make the world a better place, and I know a lot of educators who are creating things like World Without Oil, along with games like One Chance, Every Day the Same Dream, and other make-you-think art games that manage to make your life that little bit better.  My question is this: how did Pop Cap, one of the recent giants of the casual games market, manage to get it so right?

If you can get into Zen Mode, it will calm you down.  With the correct breathing speed, it can't fail to do so.  Butterflies has a delightful soundtrack that makes the whole somewhat distressing affair still enjoyable and relaxing.  I mocked the spider out loud the first time I thwarted him of a kill.  That's odd, even by my standards.  I haven't tried the other modes yet, but I have this to say:

Any game that can calm its players down through conscious choice and aim is making the world a better place as far as I'm concerned.

My hat goes off to you, Pop Cap.  You're doing en masse what the rest of us can only dream.

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