I I’m addicted to video games again. Addictive like I haven’t been in years. So addicted I got borderline arthritis in my left thumb and right index finger because I play with them as soon as I open my eyes in the morning and the last thing I close my eyes at night.
For someone approaching his 50s, this is ridiculous behavior. I should wake up and do Pilates. My eyelids are supposed to droop while reading Reader’s Digest before bed. I should get arthritis from growing peonies or unpacking Werther’s original book. but not. Only games can do this, not even hardcore titles involving gods, war, or Elden’s Ring.I’m addicted to what I used to label with contempt casual games. I’m talking about Apple Arcade, which I now believe to be the most valuable game delivery system on the planet in 2023. It turns my phone into the most fun gaming console I’ve owned since my Neo Geo in the 90s.
In the past 20 years, I can’t think of anything that has brought me so much quality, variety, imagination, and downright weird gameplay. I help the trees grow by cutting off branches to guide them to receive sunlight in the Prune. I solve serious household problems by fixing people’s gadgets in Assemble With Care. I’ve completed complex puzzles by dragging water through paint in Tint, built towns in Outlanders, enhanced my writing skills with Word Laces and done it… whatever I did in Lifelike what. (I think I’m adapting to alien lifeforms by fusing their particles with other particles into deep space, but I just feel like I’m being warmly submerged in a Pink Floyd album.)
I’ve tried wacky city planning with mini-highways, swaying primates in a gibbon rainforest, farting and getting frustrated with Lego on a builder’s journey, and taking the lead across America on the Oregon Trail. All this for less than five bucks a month.
Ironically, I’ve owned Apple Arcade for years and haven’t used it — one of those classic modern subscriptions you buy because it sounds good, but never get around to actually taking advantage of it. I finally started using it a few months ago because I was about to cancel it. Now it has me looking at Xbox Game Pass and wondering if I should divest.
Apple Arcade introduced me to my favorite game of 2022, Marvel Snap. I’d never thought of playing a deck game before, but it was featured there, so I gave it a go. Now I can even say it’s a perfect game. Gameplay, graphics, sound, gloss? It’s got it all, and it’s fantastic for a comic book geek like me, with characters and locations that stay true to the original pages I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid.
Now, that same subscription gives me what I suspect may end up being my favorite game of 2023: Pocket Card Jockey. I never thought I’d be playing horse racing solitaire all day long, but whoever decides which games to ship on Apple Arcade is a genius. These games also convinced me that touchscreens are indeed the most intuitive and versatile form of game control. Maybe it has always been.
All of these games give me pure, simple joy. It’s hard to find joy these days. I play them with a smile on my face so many modern video games make me grimace from stress or frustration. They’re also full games, delivered in full: no patches or 10 TB updates required on day one. I’m annoyed that Marvel Snap has horrible microtransactions, but you don’t need to buy anything at all to stay competitive in the game, and rightfully so. This is the first high standard game I feel like I can play online since Fifa.
Even the games I don’t like (I’m talking to you, Mutazione, and the seeds you can’t find and place!) still have me rubbing my jaw and admiring the imagination on display. I haven’t seen this well-curated standard of innovative entertainment since Channel 4 in the 90’s.
I figured the cool kids might be judging me now, sneaking a sign on the back of my cardigan that said: Casual Gamer. so what? Honestly, with all the emotional, mental, financial, and physical challenges life brings, I don’t know if it’s worth spending 30 hours playing games right now. The next fantasy might actually be my final fantasy. I might die before finishing Starfield. The games I need right now fall into one of two categories: great stories that I can finish in a week; or games featuring superheroes, cards, and/or cartoon animals that I can devote 10 minutes an hour to.