How Humanity’s Number Drug Affects Game Design And Our Lives

In Right Click to Necromance the attention span of a player is not sustained by the affirmation of a goal they reach towards. Instead it relies on the fascination of an ever increasing army. Kill some enemies on screen, raise them from the dead, your army is now one third larger than it was before. Now rinse, repeat, and continue because the game never stops, it only becomes more difficult to maintain your mass of rampant infantry.

I thought I would only sit down and play the game for 20 minutes at the most, but an hour later I was still clicking away in hopes that I could somehow make my army larger. There was something about the idea of seeing the number of people I had control over increase on the screen that made me stay longer than I expected, and since the game does not have a goal for players to progress towards, the journey is neverending.

Most games all rely on a sovereign goal to lead players forward and through a game. Victory conditions such as, “Solve Old Dirty Dreg’s murder!”, or “Survive 20 waves to win!”, dominate many games’ design. These are not a bad way to design the flow of a game, creating a goal for the player to work towards makes a game much more accessible and understandable. Accessibility does not necessarily equate better however, and in the case of relying on a player’s fascination with numeral growth to push them forward, it can be more enjoyable to avoid accessibility.

Pong Image: 4 left, 2 right

Our volley contains the passion of a thousand suns.

To say that games being designed around making numbers increase is a new concept would be a naive statement to make though. Games revolve almost entirely around numbers, and even outside of those there are players so dedicated to figuring out how they work that numeric values are added somehow. One could look all the way back to Pong and see that higher numbers as a means to victory have always been a core part of games. What I am looking at is a specific emotion though, the feeling inside that asks, “Just how far can I push this”? It is the reason that communities search for the best way to build their characters in role-playing games like Fallout 4. The same emotion can explain the semi-recent rise in idle games like Time Clickers, that became popular within the past couple of years. Aside from the player’s interest in watching numbers go up at a faster rate than before, having to click less, and sometimes rewarding the player with upgrades, there is no objective to work towards.

Game design has become much more diverse with the rise of small games on sites such as Game Jolt, itch.io, and Kongregate as well. For every Emily is Away and Animal Inspector, there is a From Orchids to Dust and Right Click to Necromance. These sites are not primarily for products to be sold as Steam and console storefronts are, instead they provide a place where people can share their ideas and new thinking. So, if neither game concepts (playing without a sovereign goal in mind and the human fascination with increasing numbers) are new, then why did this game by Juicy Beast connect with me so much? It is because experiences designed to derive pleasure from numbers increasing is becoming integrated in our lives outside of games by an increasing rate.

Numbers are what make the internet go ‘round

Games are designed with all aspects of our lives (business, education, and social) in mind to make us interact with other individuals and media more often. Our self-esteem depends on how many people see our pictures posted on Facebook or how many times a tweet was favorited. There are apps and websites that consumers can buy in order to increase and track their followers on specific websites. It starts to bleed into our other activities too with social websites documenting the activities we take a part of in our day to day lives. Letterboxd wants to know the movies you watch, Lifebar wants to know about the games, and Swarm wants to know where you go throughout your day. Even Dating apps like The Grade want us to judge other individuals based off of numbers that translate to a grade.

grade smiley

I only date teeth with A+ response rates.

Numbers are what make the internet go ‘round at this point. Look at any video streaming site, such as Vine or Younow, and the number of viewers is a very important number. Websites are similar as well, although they function slightly different in the way that advertising is chosen and supported. The bigger the number, the larger the audience that has seen something, and more support is given to creators of a work.

It is easy to look at this with cynicism. Many scoff at how our computers and phones have become lifelines to the social world. How could we become so reliant on numbers for a large part of our lives? Humans mean more than a number ticking up by one. We can’t deny how important these platforms have become to modern life though. Social media websites help form a part of many individual’s identity through observation and interaction. These likes, favorites, retweets, and upvotes can all help us learn more about contemporary social interaction but there is a point where it goes too far. The whole idea of these services are to be connected, stay updated, and share what is going on but when we start focusing on what makes numbers go up and down then we may be losing focus of our original intent to socialize.

We should not look at our contemporary gamified culture with extreme negativity, especially as it only becomes more integrated within our culture. The idea of being communicative and social about our activities is not an inherently bad idea, but it is healthy to view these with a certain amount of skepticism at the same time. For every photo one shares with their friends, they should also be aware about what information is being communicated and who is receiving it. We also should ensure that numbers do not make up our being entirely or else in the end we only become a number ourselves. Just like the little soldiers in Right Click to Necromance we are identified as a number creating a larger mass, only as a means and never as an individual. Also, we die and come back, a lot.

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