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Opinion – Tapping Isn't The Same As Playing

by Dan Ryckert on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:36 AM

In recent years, mobile and tablet gaming has obviously exploded in popularity. With developers finding smart ways to utilize touchscreens, the quality of these titles has steadily risen in conjunction with the vast quantity of them. I’ve greatly enjoyed many iPhone games, including Hero Academy, Jetpack Joyride, Kingdom Rush, Plants vs. Zombies, Cut the Rope, and plenty more. Recent months have seen me branch out to different genres of mobile games, and I’ve discovered one that I can’t stand.

Two titles in particular have made me aware of a new style of game that offers next to nothing in the way of creativity, skill, or entertainment. These two games are The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Tiny Death Star. Both are based on properties that I consider myself a big fan of, which was most likely a factor in my decision to download them. I’ve heard friends speak fondly of both titles, so I figured I had nothing to lose. Decent, free games based on The Simpsons and Star Wars? I was on board with the idea.

Upon starting each game, I enjoyed learning their various systems. I don’t necessarily mind having to wait to play (both games feature tasks that require hours, sometimes days without input), and I was charmed by the constant references to old Simpsons jokes or obscure Star Wars characters. Building Ned Flanders’ house or adding a new cantina level to my Death Star was fun at first, but the nature of these games became apparent after a few days.

As I loaded up these apps, scanned for tasks that had been completed, and tapped them again to restart a timer, I realized that I wasn’t actually doing anything. There was no game to be played here. When you stripped away the familiar IP from these titles, they boiled down to nothing but waiting for a meter to fill and then starting another one. At no point were they challenging me, and at no point did I feel like I had actually accomplished anything. A dog can learn how to ring a bell if it’s hungry, but at least it gets a treat in the end. After days of tapping, I started wondering where the reward was coming from, if it ever was at all.

Tapping a touchscreen isn’t an inherently bad method of input. Jetpack Joyride’s sole method of control is via touching the screen with one finger, and I got many hours of enjoyment out of it. Hero Academy never requires anything beyond simple taps, and it features a deep battle system and engaging asynchronous multiplayer. Angry Birds has entertained millions and millions with similarly simple control mechanisms. It’s not the tapping that’s the problem, it’s the core gameplay design.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Tiny Death Star caught me early on with their deceptive charm, but I quickly saw them for what they are. Games like these constantly dangle the carrot in front of mobile gamers’ faces, but never deliver the goods. It’s simple to open these apps, tap a couple of completed tasks, and feel like you’re accomplishing something, but you really aren’t. A mindless, never-ending series of meters and timers is not a game, and I have zero interest in returning to mobile titles that take up my time and offer nothing in return.