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ARCHIVE: Of Toys and Games...

Mon. Dec 26th 2005, 03:47am:

I've always maintained that had I liked playing typical video games as a kid, I would have never been a programmer. It is only once in a while that I run across a video game that still holds my interest after I get over the snazzy graphics rendering engine. I could never figure out why I liked some video games like Splinter Cell and didn't like most others, it certainly had nothing to do with the genre, playability, speed, graphics etc. In general the more I had to race against time, complete missions, or beat other players, the less I wanted to play these games. But Splinter Cell was an exception that never made sense to me.

Last night I discovered this wonderful Falling Sand Java Game via Fark. It's a Zen-Garden-like game where you control flow of sand, water, salt, and oil by drawing walls, plants, sprouts, cera (wax). You'll need Java (JRE 1.5.0 or above) to play this game. If you don't have it already, it's absolutely worth the download.

I've been playing it for hours and hours all day & night. It is certainly something that holds my interest. I mentioned the calm nature of this game on Digg. It was when someone mentioned that "It isn't a game, it's a toy..." that all of a sudden, everything made sense. Of course! It's not a game. It is a toy.

The big difference between a game and a toy is that there's no "winning" when you're playing with a toy. A toy is something you can play with by yourself or with a few others without competing against time, enemies, or computers. Whereas the basic premise of a game is that you have to achieve victory by performing a series of mental and physical tasks. You can of course play a game with/using toys but playing with toys does not imply that a game is necessarily in progress. As a kid when I played with my construction kits, legos, brick-o-built (rare lego-style brick kit which kicked ass), time pretty much stood still. I would dream up something and then spend hours making it, fine-tuning one detail and then adding another level of complexity. That's exactly what I love about the Falling Sand Game/Toy and in a way, about Splinter Cell (SC).

I never played SC like a normal gamer. I suck so bad at video games that I die pretty much every few minutes. The awesome thing about SC was I could hit 'Save' and 'Load' at any point in the game, instead of waiting to reach some checkpoint. As a result, it was no longer a race against time or typical speed-killing on low-resources game. Now I could hit 'Save' once I shot a guard, take my time to plan my next move, and 'Load' the game repeatedly till I got the move just right. I know, a sucky way to play a seemingly easy game like this but that's the only reason why I felt interested in playing - because I didn't have to worry about someone shooting me in the back while I was running at full speed on low-ammo. Too much pressure! I play to relieve stress not accumulate more. So It'll be toys over games for me for now.

Just a small note about games vs. sports. On one hand, while I don't fancy games, I've always loved sports. Physical challenges excite me but pressing the A button then X then UP-UP-DOWN-LEFT-B isn't exactly my thing. I'm impartial to non-word board/card games but love word games and puzzles. I think it all comes down to a balance between the motivation to win and the physical requirements of the challenge. If I spend energy kicking a football, I better win! But if all I'm doing is thinking, I can do it for hours on end without requiring that I win something. In fact I prefer to use my brain to learn something and not to compete against someone/something.