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Insulting Games

December 14, 2006

I have a guilty pleasure.  It’s something I do in the middle of the night when I’m bored, something I do in the morning before I go to work, something I do when I get home to de-stress.  It’s an addiction, I know.  But I can’t seem to make myself stop!

It’s Shockwave.Com

I know, I know.  It’s a silly thing to be addicted to.  But the puzzle games call to me!  Bejeweled and Alchemy remind me of my days in the west campus computer lab, when hours could pass without a student in sight.  Text Twist reminds me of how we used to sit in the computer lab on the main campus, three of us gathered around a computer, the graphic artist, the aspiring lawyer, and the girl plodding her way through a degree in English.  Sometimes the students who would come in for help with their questions would find themselves helping with our game instead.  It passed the time, kept us at our computers, and despite the protests of the higher ups, was generally ignored by the bosses.

For the most part, I enjoy the games.  They’re simple puzzles, or quick games of strategy.  The problem I find is that I will play a game until it bores me to death, and then I will move on to another.  And there are only so many other games you can play before they start to repeat.  Or worse, annoy me.

Some games rely on chance.  Sometimes, they reply a little too much on chance for my taste.  I played a certain lotto game exactly once.  You had to pick up certain numbers before the time ran out.  And I wasn’t terribly impressed when I lost a game because the computer didn’t put all of the numbers out in time.  Random I can deal with.  But there has to be at least some chance of winning for me to want to play again.

Some games rely on speed.  And while I’ve got a pretty fast computer and a pretty decent Internet connection, I was again unimpressed by a game so graphics heavy that you could barely navigate.  This game, it seemed, rewarded those players who were able to afford high end computers.  It seems sort of silly to need an expensive computer to play a free game online.

Now there is the latest in free puzzle games.  A Bejeweled variation called A Charmed Life.  This game is nothing more than an ad for State Farm Insurance, wrapped up in a pretty red package.  An insulting pretty red package.

Level 1 begins with the graphic of a pretty, painfully thin young woman on her cell phone.  Next to her is the game board.  The premise is simple.  Match three, win the prize, take home a stuffed animal for your girl, heyheyhey.  In this level, your interests are shown as a piggy bank for your money, a car for transportation, a martini glass for your alcohol (girly drinks only, please), an iPod for all your illegal music, bright red spike heeled shoes for a night out on the town and a calendar.  One assumes the calendar is for all those dates the girl is planning on her cell phone.  “This is where it begins,” the game proclaims.  “Real job, new car, money in the bank – it’s all about you.”  Not for long though.

Level 2 is entitled “The Family Way.”  “You’re moving on,” it tells you.  “And getting married, having a baby and buying a home mean a little planning on your part.”  Diamond rings, credit cards, and baby rattles have been added to the mix.  No more high heeled red shoes, though.  The bedraggled pregnant woman putting together the baby crib doesn’t look like she’s going to be having a night out on the town anytime soon.  Oddly, the martini glass is still a part of the game.  No need to worry about fetal alcohol syndrome, mysterious pregnant woman!

Level 3 is “Having It All.”  “Keep it up,” it encourages.  “It’s time to settle down and think about yourself – where you are and where you want to be.”  Funny.  And here I always thought that I should think about where I want to be before having a baby.  Finally we see a working woman.  Keys to her own house have been added to the mix, and hey look!  A passport!  Too bad those soccer balls scream “Soccer Mom!”  And the baby rattles are still there.  That’s right girls, you can’t have it all unless you’ve got babies.

Level 4 is “The Good Life.”  “Almost there,” it promises.  “You’ve reached that point in life where you can sit back and enjoy all your hard work.”  Funny how there’s no time to enjoy your hard work prior to this.  But hey!  No more baby rattles for this woman.  Instead it’s sunglasses and a strange U shaped object that either represents a retirement account, a money clip, or the melted down gold teeth of the competition.  Who knows?  But even in her happy, graying, sunbathing state, she’s still a soccer mom.  And damned if she’s still forbidden those fancy high heels.

This game makes no pretense at being aimed at anything other than young women.  In fact, the whole thing is one big ad for State Farm’s new Red Portfolio program.  While I applaud State Farm for trying to reach out to help women with their investments, is a condescending game really the way to do it?  Even the Red Portfolio website assumes that the big events in a woman’s life revolve around making a family.  Its free gift offer consists of a wedding planner, and a baby care book.  The “Reaching Your Goals” menu is more about reaching other people’s goals.  The most ironic part?  The “Owning a Business” link is broken on some of the pages.

What truly troubles me is that on the main financial side, only saving for your child’s college fund is mentioned.  Men, apparently, don’t need to save for a wedding.  Men don’t need to plan for their wife’s struggles while carrying their baby.  Men don’t need to save for raising their children.  After all, why do all of that when your wife can do it?  It’s not like she needs more shoes.

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