Right on time for Easter, a hefty dose of festive advertising arrived via email from Popcap, a casual games company you may have heard of whose development skills and prodigious output are matched only by their high-voltage marketing. This particular message featured two gigantic, glaringly colorful eggs, a distinctly Jar Jar Binks-looking rabbit in a foppish top hat and promises of an Easter Egg Surprise only a single click away. (Not much of a surprise at all, it turned out, just a repeat of what I'd already been told in the email: super-crazy holiday deals on select PopCap releases! Zowie!)
PopCap, for the hypothetical few of you who don't know, is the behemoth of the casual games industry, founded in 2000 and currently employing over 180 people, with over one billion game downloads to their credit. They develop and publish the most insidious games imaginable, employing sales techniques directly inspired, appropriately enough, by drug dealers: They make the first one free and then wait for you to beg them to take your money.
Before I continue, let me take a moment to clarify my own particular camping spot on the gamer spectrum: I am hardcore. Gaming paraphernalia adorns my walls and shelves. I have a lit-up, pimped-out, overclocked rig that's worth more and goes faster than my car. I am disgusted by the weakness of people who complain that standard PC keyboards are unintuitive as game controllers. I beat games like I beat children and small animals: enthusiastically and often.
And I'm looking at the PopCap website.
To be clear about it, it's not as though I'm desperate for something to play. I'm just getting into the meat of BioShock after finally installing a video card that will run the thing. (Thanks for nothing, ATI.) I'm midway through Titan Quest, originally purchased as a pre-BioShock time filler that turned out to be a far better game than I expected, and I've got both Crysis and Call of Duty 4 waiting in the wings. I've also recently developed a burning itch to finally wrap up Icewind Dale 2, which has been hanging over my RPG bones like a hand-painted, isometric Sword of Damocles. I am, to put it mildly, hip-deep in sugary gaming goodness.
So why am I trying to remember where my wife stashed her credit card?
My mom loves games like these, as many moms do these days, which is in itself an indictment of my shamefully softening sensibilities. One commonality shared by all entertainment media is that if Mom likes it, it's not cool. But moms aren't expected to appreciate the aesthetic of gunning down hordes of deformed mutants in the bombed-out, burning ruins of an alien metropolis, and even if they did, it's not likely they'd trade in their colorful cubes and countless surprise power-ups for a plasma rifle and a license to kick ass. Yet I seem to be at a growing risk of doing precisely the opposite.