A century ago, the journalist, pastor, and social reformer Lyman Abbott wrote: “I frequently play solitaire as a brain rest, and I recommend the game to the brain-weary. In playing I have to study the relation of each card on the table to the other cards and take time to determine what my play shall be.”
Anyone who enjoys casual electronic games can identify with Abbott. Casual games engage us without overtaxing us. We line up stones in Bejeweled, help Flo wait tables in Diner Dash, stack shapes in Tetris, or load up Solitaire on Microsoft Windows. We start casual games when we’re slightly stressed, bored, or perhaps just plain brain-weary. They stabilize our spirits and reinvigorate us to face the challenges of everyday life.
When I’m tired, I don’t want to learn a lot of complicated rules. I also don’t want to have to wait to begin playing. And I certainly don’t want to devote half my life to the effort. A good casual game is easy to learn, quick to start, and short in duration.
As Abbott’s quote suggests, casual games, whether traditional or electronic, have entertained us for a long time. And yet, in recent years, casual games have become an increasingly important part of the video game market. Why is this? I think the key reason is ease of access. Consider what makes Solitaire—the type you play with a physical deck of cards—such an appealing game. The rules are simple, the game mixes chance with a modicum of skill, and, most importantly, you can carry the deck of cards around with you for instant play. When Microsoft bundled Solitaire with Windows 3.0 in 1990, millions of computer users gained instant access to a game right from their startup menus.
Today, the Internet and mobile technologies make it easy to launch a game almost instantaneously. Flash-based games on sites such as Pogo and PopCap take seconds to load, and a universe of iPhone games like Paper Toss and DodgeDot attracts thousands of players. As computing power grows exponentially and becomes ever more transportable, casual games will only gain in popularity.
I know I’ll keep playing them. Lately, I’ve favored Mr. AahH! on my iPhone. Online I tend to play whatever my kids are enjoying—recently it’s been Canyon Defense and Plants vs. Zombies. But my favorite casual game right now is Wii Sports Resort’s Table Tennis. I battle the computer for best out of five, and when I’ve won (or lost) three games, I’m done and ready for the next task at hand. For me, it’s the perfect remedy for a weary brain.
So what casual games are you playing?
By Jon-Paul Dyson, Director, International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Vice President for Exhibits