November 11, 2013

I’ve talked before about how good I am at getting addicted to computer games. My current addiction is Super Hexagon, and it’s exactly the sort of game that’s designed to get people like me hooked: a free, quick, and simple puzzle/arcade game with retro graphics that I can play on the phone inbetween doing other things. The basic premise is, well, pretty basic: you’re a tiny triangular cursor and you have to turn clockwise or anticlockwise to evade the solid bars which are closing in on you. That’s it. (If there is actually some ridiculous scenario where the triangle is a spaceship and you’re trying to navigate your way through Death Valley while aliens put forcefields in your your way or something, then I haven’t read it and I don’t want to. Blocks and lines, that’s what does it for me.) The encroaching hexagonal walls themselves rotate (and sometimes switch direction) independently of your own movements, and they just keep coming, faster and faster, and you have to keep dodging them until you fail. (The addictive games for me tend to be the ones where, like Tetris, you can’t win, you can only stave off failure for longer and longer.)

In a screenshot it looks fairly unassuming:

Though the video (as shown on the game website) gives a better idea of what’s going on. The colours and the patterns change from level to level (the levels are: Hard, Harder, Hardest, Hardester, Hardestest, Hardestestest), and the starting speed ramps up a bit more every time.

The trancey music helps to make it a more immersive experience (though in that line nothing will ever beat the full-on synaesthesic brain-saturation of Rez, for me), but I’ve mostly been playing it on silent, and it’s quite hypnotic enough like that: the shapes inexorably closing in draw your eyes into the centre of the screen over and over again, sucking your eyes down the plughole of the time sink.

Part of the attraction is that it’s so fast that at the beginning a game may be only a few seconds long; you have to keep going for 60 seconds to complete a level, and in the early stages of each new level that seems frankly impossible. (The trick, I’ve found, is to play a level higher than the level you want to beat, and then when you go back down a level it seems beautifully slow by comparison; but some of the higher levels are only unlocked once you’ve completed the lower levels.) So how can it be a time sink? It’s so quick it seems totally harmless. But if a game only takes 10 seconds, why then surely there’s time to play again… and again, and again, and again. And even when a game takes 60 seconds, a minute is really only a tiny amount of time… and in this way hours are lost.

I’ve now finished every level except Hardestestest (current record on that level: 26:08) and I’m half looking forward to and half wanting to put off that moment when I know I’ve actually finished: on the one hand, it feels (briefly) like an achievement; but on the other hand, after that point I always lose interest in the game. There’s only so much enthusiasm I can work up for improving my best time, because I know nothing new happens once the level’s completed and all the areas are unlocked: — it just carries on and on and on, killing time. For me, that’s when it’s time to move on and find another addiction.