Month: October 2018

Are mindless games just a guilty pleasure?

When I first encountered Tetris I thought it was a complex, highly tactical game. I took it very seriously.

Years later, it’s my go-to pleasure when I need to unwind. It’s enough to keep my brain occupied without inducing a migraine. I can play it with such little thought, mindlessly slotting in blocks while simultaneously warbling along to music or contemplating my next snack.

tetris-mega-drive
Tetris (Mega Drive) (the best version – I mean, check out those backgrounds)

There are now a multitude of pocket games at our disposal – Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Zookeeper Battle – and consumers have lapped them up. So there’s no doubt about how popular they are – but why? Are we just that restless? Have we become so fidgety that instead of reading a book we need to constantly swipe colours on a screen? Are we hopeless 21st century addicts?

That’s probably part of it, but I like to think it runs deeper. It’s natural that our minds need to switch off after a hard day just as much as our bodies do. Even if it’s just a trashy mobile game, the immersion snatches me out of the daily grind and makes me relax. It’s a reassuring habit, letting my brain know we’re on the way home to warmth, food and comfort (and possibly more gaming).

And then there’s the sense of achievement when you beat your previous time trial or secure a level-up. Sure, it’s minimal and pretty superficial, but it’s cheap satisfaction. When I hear the ping of clearing four lines, it’s music to my ears and I am happy. I am one step closer to sinking into a deep slumber. And that’s important – it can be hard to shake off that wired feeling after work and truly detach, so filling the time with harmless, low-risk entertainment helps make that transition.

Beyond the therapeutic benefits, smart people even say these games go some way to improving brain function in the long term. You’re probably reading about the Tetris effect now, but don’t worry – that only means you’ve reached a higher plane of intelligence.

So no, you shouldn’t feel guilty for playing cheap binge games. Your brain needs them. And we can’t be playing epic, triple-A masterpieces all the time (or Monkey Island, in my case) – that’s what weekends are for.

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Can we talk about the monkey wrench puzzle?

I’m currently playing Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. It’s great – the humour is spot on and I love how the world completely opens up after the first few challenges. It’s even possible that I’m enjoying it more than the first one.

A few days ago I reached the infamous monkey wrench puzzle. I’ve long been aware of this part of the game and the controversy over its difficulty, but it’s only through playing it myself and seeing it first-hand that I’ve come to appreciate just how obscure it is.

Monkey Island 2 spoilers ahead!

The puzzle

On Phatt Island, our protagonist Guybrush reaches the top of a waterfall where there is a pump. Presumably, Guybrush needs to turn it off to stop the waterfall, so he can cross to other side.

However the pump doesn’t turn. Further interaction offers no clues. There is seemingly nothing else in the area that would help, nor does my inventory contain any relevant items.

The solution

Guybrush must go to the Bloody Lip bar on Scabb Island where he will find Jojo the monkey playing the piano. There is a metronome ticking. He must place the banana from his inventory onto the metronome in order to mesmerise Jojo and ‘freeze’ him in his current position. Jojo can then be picked up and added to the inventory.

Guybrush can now go back to the waterfall and use the monkey to turn the pump.

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition_ LeChuck's Revenge 08_10_2018 18_11_17

The joke

The reasoning behind this puzzle is that Jojo has been turned into – drum roll – a monkey wrench.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t work well.

It relies on the player knowing what a ‘monkey wrench’ is

n. An adjustable spanner with large jaws that has its adjusting screw located in the jaw that is fixed. (English Oxford Dictionary)

As a Brit, we don’t use this term a lot. I vaguely know what a ‘monkey wrench’ is, but unless you’re a tradesman who uses one all the time, we would just say ‘spanner’ or, at the most, ‘wrench’. I believe this is the case for most countries outside of the US (where the term was invented). Even if a wrench or spanner enters your mind, you’re unlikely to think, specifically, ‘monkey wrench’. And in some languages, ‘monkey wrench’ isn’t even a thing.

It relies on the player knowing the puzzle is a metaphor

If you relayed this puzzle to a group of people in the same way as you might tell a joke, they would likely find it clever and amusing. The idea itself is a great play on words.

The problem is, in the context of an adventure game where the player doesn’t have the benefit of knowing the answer, getting there is very difficult. If you think about the thought processes involved, most people would begin thinking, ‘I need to turn this pump. I probably need a tool to do that.’ But how many would then think, ‘I need a monkey wrench. There’s a monkey in the bar that I could turn into a wrench shape by placing this banana on the metronome!’

Okay, so some might, and I salute you. But back in the day, before internet walkthroughs, my guess is that most people finished this puzzle by trial and error. Or, they already had the monkey in their inventory and just thought to try it (great if that works, but it’s not a brilliant puzzle if you don’t know what the connection is).

Even now, there are numerous comments on Steam and other forums from people baffled by the logic even after they’ve solved it.

‘Nuff said

Being a big LucasArts fan I’m not having a dig at the developers here. I just thought it would be an interesting topic to explore given all I’ve heard about it, and having reached that part of the game myself for the first time.

I guess for the most part it comes down to language differences. Oh look – that means I stayed on topic!