Life is hard, we know that. And I’m not just talking about the big, being Black in America, what is going on in the Middle East, they are going to nominate who to be President, type stuff. I’m talking about the small stuff. I missed the bus. I picked my kid up from school and her clothes didn’t match. Somebody ate all the damn ice cream after I told him it was my favorite and that’s it I’m just going to start hiding my…nevermind. That stuff. Small stuff. Do you know where I always find the bus on time, the matching clothes, and the ice cream still frozen? In a Hidden Object Game, that’s where. In these games, I always succeed in 3 minutes or less. I always find the item, solve the mystery, and release the queen — these games are set up for me to win, and I love them for it.
If you’re not hip to the type, Hidden Object games come in a few different flavors.
There are the ones where you get a list of objects to find in a complicated scene — like a Mississippi river boat picture or some such. The only goal is to find all of the items before time runs out. This is the digital version of a Where’s Waldo book — and don’t doubt, I was the family champ at Where’s Waldo.
There are the ones with a little adventure thrown in, say you have to find the items then figure out how to put them together to look like a giant statue of Imhotep that will then reveal a treasure room…around which you must again search for hidden objects.
Or there are the simulator crossover versions, where you have to find 20 carrot seeds, which you then plant to make 40 carrots, which you then sell to buy a new part of your farm, where you can then find 20 apple seeds.
Yeah, there’s a theme here: these games can be eternal. There’s no winning, really, or even ending to the game. You just search and search and search. I’ll play for hours, clicking through scenes of messy kitchens or ruined jungles looking for the smallest items. I’ve explored Ancient Roman ruins, the White House front lawn, and fairy kingdoms in pursuit of hand fans, lizards, and misplaced statuary. I’ve grown a hundred fields and harvested a thousand ears of corn just so I can open the barn again and keep searching for that single glove.
It never gets old. I don’t pay to play. If I can’t find the items with my own skills, then I just keep trying, no power ups here. For variety, there are different games installed on my desktop, my laptop, my tablet, (not my phone tho, gotta save my battery for Pokemon hunting [#TeamValor!]), so I’m never without a little mindless entertainment.
Which brings me to why I love them so: they are simultaneously mindless and rewarding. I always find the items, if not on the first try, then the third one. They are built that way, to feed my need to win in a world that is set-up to keep me losing every day. It is all game theory and sociology, with a little marketing thrown in. I know that the challenge level is always set hard enough for me to have to engage but not so hard I actually have to work for anything.
I know the regularity of rewards is designed to keep me playing and searching for just.one.more.thing. I don’t care that it is all a set up. They get my time and clicks, I get to unplug from the noise and help this little old lady find 4 wine bottles in a Victorian garden. Everybody wins. For some people Hidden Object games are about as interesting as watching grass grow, but sometimes I don’t need life to be exciting. I just need to succeed. Besides, if you watch the grass long enough, there might be something in there…
So after a long day of fighting the good fight and managing not to snap off on someone at work (who totally deserved it, by the way), I put the kid to bed and curl up on my sofa with a drink and my tablet, where I happily tap my way through image after image. If my energy runs out for one game, I switch to another until my glass is empty and all the failures of the day have been replaced by the sweet taste of artificial success. Somedays, that’s all I’ve got. Somedays, that’s all I need.