I first heard about the app "Dream Heights" via an angry user on the Android subforum of Reddit. Someone was ranting about how the social game maker Zynga had stolen the concept from an app called "Tiny Tower" and created a "social" app that basically does the same thing. The Reddit user had posted a side-by-side comparison of the two apps, and they really did look strikingly similar. "Thieves!" all the comments were yelling. "Zynga sucks!!!"
My experience of Zynga games, at that point, had only from secondhand knowledge. Like everyone on Facebook, I'd suffered a barrage of annoying notifications from "friends" who seemed like they had nothing better to do than to play Farmville 24 hours a day. It seemed every five minutes someone wanted me to milk their cow, slaughter their chicken, eat their corn or whatever it is that people do on Farmville. "What losers," I always thought to myself. I was addicted to YouTube but at least I hadn't fallen into the Farmville wormhole.
Then, for some reason, I bit the bait. I downloaded Dream Heights. Maybe it was the cartoonish graphics on the Google Play site which reminded me of my old Roller Coaster Tycoon obsession. Or maybe I downloaded it simply because I love skyscrapers and subconsciously had always wanted to construct one. For whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Many things do.
The game begins simply enough. It's really quite deceptive. But just like a cute-looking racoon, Dream Heights looks are deceiving. The app was actually created to terrorize my sanity and drain my bank account. I am now insane. Thanks, Zynga!
The goal of the game is to construct a tower. A tall tower. A tower to beat all towers. A glimmering, phallic beacon of masculine pride. In the beginning, all you have is an elevator, a lobby and a dream. From there, you can only go up. There is no version of the tower game that allows you construct down into the firey pits of hell, but there should be, for that is what the experience of playing this game is actually like.
But first you have to make money. So you build an Italian restaurant. But there are people entering the building, so you have to make sure you man the doors and deliver them to the correct level. Then there's money to be collected. You have to click on the bags of money for it to be yours. And then you have to order new things to buy so you can make money and build more levels on your skyscraper so all these little pixelated fake people will have stuff to do. And then click the elevator again, then close the app because nothing is happening, than open it again to click the money...
All of which sounds fine, in theory at least. Like Sim City, Dream Heights plays on people's desires to be masters of the universe. You are God to these little pixelated people.
But because Dream Heights is a Zynga game, there is no end. The game continues until infinity, like a nightmare you can never wake up from. And, all the while, the app notifies you when you have money, or when you need to re-stock bowling pins in the bowling alley you constructed or manicures in the spa you created. All of those little pixelated people are counting on you, they need their f***king facial peels and pizza and couches!
So now, wherever I go, and whatever I do, this stupid app is calling the shots. Even at night I find myself stocking the bowling alley and taking people up from the lobby to their desired floor. "YOU HAVE MONEY THAT NEEDS COLLECTING!" scream the notification ads, and I think to myself "well, I guess I'll do this rather than call my friends back." And of course I want to delete it forever, but now I've built 15 levels. There's no turning back. I've even bought $3 worth in "cash" to "speed" things along (Zynga games are built for long-term gameplay, and so progress moves at a glacial pace).
Dream Heights is an unbeatable game. But it's not meant to be a game in the traditional sense anway. It's an alternative universe you just pop into once every half an hour for no other reason than to make something bigger. And maybe that's all we want from our games. Maybe that's the whole point. But there's literally zero creativity involved, almost no skill needed and the desired goal (a tall tower) is so very, very dumb.
I guess what I'm saying is that there is basically no difference between "playing" this game and taking crack. And as a society, don't we have anything better to do than take crack? Because this game is about as joyless as the act of procuring crack cocaine from a belligerent pimp. If this is what the public wants– and judging by the 1 milion downloads, I think the people DO want this – then I think the government should step in and just ban all Zynga games. Clearly, we can't get anything else done with them around.