Peggle: The Non-Gamer Identifier

Whether it’s in PC Gamer or on today’s GU Comics, it seems Peggle has picked up a lot of attention.  It scores very highly – I figured that must mean it’s a good game.  So, when it went on sale on Steam a couple weeks back, I picked up Peggle and Peggle Nights for $10 and gave them both a shot…

… a few hundred shots, in fact.  I played through both games’ “adventure modes,” unlocking all the various helpers, and all the while looking for what’s so great about Peggle.  After completing both games, I knew that the only consistent answer lay in the very core mechanic:

Peggle Screenshot

“You aim a ball at a peg, carefully fine tune your shot with the mouse wheel, and fire.  Maybe, if you’re good, you’ll reliably hit two pegs (maybe three pegs if two are closed together).

Aside from that, it’s pretty much luck tempered with shot-in-the-dark foresight: the very limitations of the pixel display prevent you from really reliably aiming beyond the first couple impacts.”

Peggle is, at its heart, a gambling game.  It fishes in people because they can ooh and aah about how lucky that shot was and feel really good about how Fate threw them a bone.

Peggle obsessed? Then you’re exhibiting non-gamer characteristics.

This non-gamer gamer trap inevitably fills with non-gamers in disguise.  However “non-gamer” is just a label, so it needs definition.  I would define a “non-gamer” as “somebody who does not play games in order to become a better player.”  I find this a fair definition under the understanding that games should, ideally, provide a challenge for their players to overcome.

Why Peggle emerges as a non-gamer identifier is because you can’t get better at Peggle.  Try looking on the net for tips on playing Peggle and you get this, something you’ll figure out in the first 5 minutes.  Try to find signs of Peggle mastery in action on YouTube, and you’ll get cheesy “look, the DNA helix level is broken” videos or flat out hacks.

The “demo” mode which advertises “learn from the Peggle Masters” is a complete lie: it’s good because it can see beyond the pixels and make mathematical calculations to assure a high-scoring shot, not because you ever have a hope of getting that good.  In the game’s fixed 640×480 resolution, even a math genius’s eyes  cannot possibly see the pixels they would need to see to make the kind of shot  they see in the demo mode.

Any professional reviewer who scored this game highly has  identified themselves as a person who enjoys games as a non-gamer.  Either that, or it suggests a bit of shameless jumping on the casual game bandwagon.

Yahtzee knew exactly what was wrong with the game, though he backslid slightly when he suggested it was a “handy little time waster” – even this bare qualification hides that Peggle’s really more of a money making scheme.

If I weren’t so obsessed with trying to improve the state of the art and a little more obsessed with paying rent, the golden path is pretty much open.  As far as schemes go, Peggle not only worked but worked so well it’s pretty much fished in the entire gaming world.

That’s a shame, really, it’s the reason why our nerd rage burns white hot these days: the almighty dollar continues to provide powerful incentive to sully the artform.  It’s a definitive case where evolution can work in reverse when incentives are set in the wrong places.

18 Responses

  1. I like the irony how I used to host and attend LAN parties and local tournaments that were filled with about 80% non-gamers 😉

  2. The VG Cats guy is kinda demented, but his recent comic does seem to make a good point: gaming is mainstream popular now, and popularity seems to carry a certain number of imitating Tagalogs, folks who don’t know anything about games but nonetheless would like to wear the title of a gamer.

    Peggle’s interesting because the game is so ambiguous. There’s no reliable mechanism to improve here, you’re just taking educated pot shots and hoping to score big. But it seems everybody likes it, and that’s telling of just how many imitators there are out there.

    To an extent, and I’ll be fair here, I think a lot of actual gamers could be fooled by it. It does have a certain point-generation satisfaction. But it shouldn’t take them that long for the ruse to wear off.

  3. Re: VG Cats. I’m personally sick of this sense of entitlement. It’s like they can’t get over that their dreams when they were 12 didn’t fully materialize. Sure, its disappointing that the industry went commercial and we don’t have a holodeck-like experience. Get over it. It’s just like these “gamers” to be one of the subcultures who are pissed that childhood vision of the future didn’t materialize. Go outside. lol 🙂

  4. Anyhow, reading the comic, we both missed his point. His point is that now that gaming is marketable, today we are just getting rehashes of the same old stuff. “Bastardized versions of once were classic games”. I don’t anyone really cares if they are called a gamer or not. Names don’t mean anything.

  5. Nevermind, I’m tired, they were talkin about the title of who gets to be called “gamer”. Reminds me of a trekkie / trekker debate.

  6. I think what he was actually saying is that the industry went commercial and because of this we end up with bastardized versions of once classic games instead of another generation of games.

    You know, sort of like how any artform popularized tends to generate easy and sellable imitations because, while there’s a generalized knowledge that the art is considered good and people want a slice, a lot of them don’t really know why the art works so they’re quite happy to shell out cash for a quick buzz on the art as a version of the product they can understand.

    But, you know, you’re right to blast me about “who gets to be called a gamer.” The tricky thing is (and this is Zen speaking) “gamer” is just a label. People will assign their own meanings to “gamer” or any other word, and for me to demand my definition of a word is true is always going to be false because, by definition, a label is nothing more than an abstraction of the thing.

    For example, trees are trees, not as “tree” the word. For me to demand your definition of “Evergreen” must be qualified by “has green pine needles year-round” is really more of an attempt to standardize the human invention of the word “tree.”

    So this is why I painstakingly lay out, “what is a non-gamer” — well, lets say it’s somebody doesn’t game to get better at playing games. In that case, it logically follows a game that is it is technically impossible to become a better at is a non-gamer’s game.

    However, I start out on an adventurous foot to suggest that there really is such a thing as a “non-gamer.” It’s yet to be accepted into mainstream, it may never be accepted into mainstream, so just because I can logically surmise something doesn’t mean everybody’s going to agree with my labeling.

    Pardon the long reply. Probably know by now that I overthink everything. 😉

  7. I think we still have quite a few new and amazing games out there that trickle out (comparatively to everything else that is released). I’m afraid a lot of this is based on the assumption that we are missing out somehow. Missing out on this holy grail of gaming that is never going to happen because of why? Oh, because there’s a market for it now, and that’s bad! hehe

    None of my comments were directed solely towards you btw, so I dont see it as blasting you. I am confused that you do recongize the futility in labeling but you still do it, as if there’s something you still get out of it. The sake of philosophical identification, or a kind of psychological comparison, perhaps.

    Question: What is the importance of defining a non-gamer? Just for the sake of doing so? I suppose I should remember the title of the blog… 🙂

  8. The “non-gamer” term I’m attempting to establish here has a few purposes.

    The main purpose is to establish that there’s a clear and present difference between gamer and non-gamer and what they will enjoy.

    There’s a slight controversial edge to the label too – being labeled against something you thought you were for gets people’s attention.

    The non-gamer label is also a bit of a rebellious gibe to an industry. If we set up Peggle as created for non-gamers then Popcap Games is making non-games.

    The problem isn’t that “there’s a market for it now.” The trouble is that the demographic that most companies are developing for is saturating the market for games for non-gamers. This causes trouble for habitual gamers:

    1. A lot of their time and money and time are being diverted to red herrings: games that are not targeting them correctly because they’re targeting non-gamers. This typically happens because a game they’ve been following is “dumbed down” for a non-gamer audience. It would be handy of games were not called games if they were being developed for non-gamers.

    2. Their needs as habitual gamers are not being met because the only good games to be found are few and far between. Few and far between is not often enough to perpetuate a habit.

    So the trouble is that the market is somewhat sabotaged. Part of it is simple greed: when developers think crap sell better, they’ll develop crap even if it stinks up the artform. However, I wonder how much of this might also be miscommunication? I suspect I’d be a lot happier if non-gamer games were completely off my radar so they stop getting in the way of my view of titles developed for the habitual gamer.

  9. I agree with the “Popcap Games is making non-games.” Totally.

    As an eternal optimist, I suggest you could spin this problem the other way. With all this sabotage to the market, it only leaves open a door for good games to come in. Sure, it’s not easy and takes hard work, but what quality game hasn’t? Like other large-scale creative endeavors, it takes persistence and team-work.

  10. Sometimes, the sentiment that the door’s open for like-minded gamers to eat up my games is indeed a source motivation.

    Other times, I’m just bored out of my skull and because I’ve nothing I want to play, and considering how poor of a job the industry’s done filling that void I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to create my own.

    Actually, I’m actually fairly entertained at the present moment. There has been quite a deluge of games showing up over the last couple days.

    The Battlefield Heroes and Free Realms betas invited me in on Wednesday.

    Free Realms blew its first impression – I’m okay with a Kid-Friendly game, but as a gamer, I need to be challenged, and the tutorial demonstrated a challenge of about the grade K-4 level.

    Battlefield heroes I probably shouldn’t talk about because they’re in closed beta, but I can probably get away with telling you that I put over 6 hours into and was left hungry for more.

    Right now I’m downloading Chronicles of Spellborn, which sounds encouraging because they completely ditched the autoattack mechanic for manual crosshair based combat, and introduce a combo system and uniquely handled hotbar. It sounds like they’re really going for innovation with this game in all aspects except keeping a grind. The way I see it, a grind isn’t a problem so long as I’m still enjoying myself, and a highly involving game like this might just do the trick.

    Because I’ve only been playing these 2 days or less, it’s hard to say how well or how long they’ll last me.

    Fileplanet’s sent me a letter about Section 8 that suggests they might induct me into beta. Champions Online beta is nowhere to be found, but they have set a ship date of July 14th.

  11. Yeah I can completely understand the sense of urgency (or lack there of) when delving into a creative project. It’s hard to work on something when you really don’t get anything, like a paycheck, in immediate return. I suppose we’ll all be stuck doing the same thing over and over again until something drastic happens and we are forced to change, rather than being a super-achiever and finding ways to get things done, regardless of risk or time involved. I wish I had the drive!

  12. On the upshot, between the economy, inexperience, and location, the appeal of a consistent paycheck really isn’t there to compete with the creative process. ;P

  13. But the games are!

  14. I used to think that too, and of course whenever I played I felt guilty, and this defeated the purpose of playing.

    However, according to The Now Habit, one needs to schedule some guilt-free fun in order to recharge their batteries. All work and no play makes jack remarkably unproductive in the long run.

  15. I dunno, hard work pays off, and if one has to find justifications through written material in order to feel good while playing a game, I think that’s a sign of a larger problem.

  16. Well, I didn’t specifically open The Now Habit in order to find an excuse to slack off. I read The Now Habit because it’s a book about motivation and I was trying to find motivation.

    There’s some very good advice in that book. Don’t knock it until you’ve read it. To a great extent, I think that following the advice in that book had allowed a great deal more progress to be made than I would have otherwise.

    In any case, to reflect upon another bit of wisdom I read, the Buddhists point out that we easily define our own misery and hangups in life.

    A great deal of my problems with motivation are trying to force myself to do things because what I’ve basically done is mentally framed myself as an outsider who needs to be pushed. I resent being pushed, even if by myself, and so what I actually end up doing is counteracting my own energies. What I need to do (and this is something The Now Habit agrees with) is say I choose to do something, as opposed to I should do something, because it solidifies the understanding that there’s only one me, not two mes (a me pushing on another me to get work done).

    I’ve chosen to take weekends off in order to recharge my batteries. I’ve chosen to take the last few days off because I wasn’t making any progress after furious brainstorming on Monday and Tuesday and felt that it was probably for the best to take a time to reflect immediately on the state of games considering my spontaneous beta invitations and the release of Chronicles of Spellborn.

    Another hangup is in the expectations we have on others. If a person were to foster the belief in their mind that another person’s motivation is their responsibility, and feel as though it is a weakness of one’s self not to push another to do something, that too a source of self-inflicted misery. It’s very straining on a relationship. One person resents being pushed, and the other resents that their pushing is not producing results. In truth, the source of the misery is that there’s a very thin line between being supportive and dominating. Until one can clearly identify where that line might be, it’s an easy one to cross by accident.

    Another interesting mental aspect I came across recently is in the Myers-Briggs typology, those who are ranked as Introverted tend to gain energy from seclusion and lose it in social activities, and those who are considered Extroverted tend to gain energy from social activities and lose it in seclusion. You may indeed gain energy from being social and active where I gain energy from seclusion and reflection may very well be a point of some frustration when it comes to trying to solve the motivation problems of the other.

  17. […] Don’t Want Zombies On Our Lawn Not too long ago, I was busy lambasting PopCap Game’s Peggle on the grounds that the skill component was too far removed – you could only reliably predict […]

  18. […] A Zombie On My Lawn Not too long ago, I was busy lambasting PopCap Game’s Peggle on the grounds that the skill component was too far removed – you could only reliably predict […]

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