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Just Why Are Those 'Stupid' iPhone Games So Addictive?

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Much ink has been spilled about the loss of upward economic mobility in the US in recent years, but if there’s an area where the American dream is still very alive, it must be the mobile gaming industry.
Witness the men behind Omgpop, who, after six years of work, hit the jackpot when Draw Something became a global sensation and Zynga (ZNGA) acquired the company for a cool $200 million.
The success of Omgpop, and indeed of parent company Zynga, can be wholly attributed to those of us who cannot help but be drawn to gaming apps on our iPhones (AAPL) and Androids (GOOG).
Why are these simple yet hyper-addictive games so popular? Certainly, no one saw it coming. Before the iPhone came along, the gaming industry had for the past 20 years moved on a path towards complex, expensive, multi-sensory blockbuster games like Electronic Arts’ (EA) The Sims, Activision’s (ATVI) Call of Duty and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Halo, which were meant to be played on independent consoles like the PlayStation (SNE) or the Xbox.
Trying to explain the phenomenon of what he terms “stupid games," Sam Anderson of the New York Times traces the development of handheld video games starting from Tetris in the 1980s up to today’s ubiquitous Angry Birds to understand their allure.
Anderson points out that the kinds of games produced often reflect their historical contexts. For example, Monopoly, released during the Depression, allowed people to indulge in the fantasy of being a rich hotel owner, while Risk, out in the 1950s, exemplified Cold War machinations. The first handheld video game, Tetris, reflected its Soviet roots in its faceless, all-encompassing antagonist. There is no meaningful progress found in the game; it always ends with the gamer dying, and yet we can’t stop playing.
And today Anderson notes the Tetris of our time is Angry Birds, which he refers to as “the string of digital prayer beads that our entire culture can twiddle in moments of rapture or anxiety -- economic, political, or existential.”
Seeking illumination as to why he was so hooked on the game Drop7, Anderson spoke to Drop7 creator Frank Lantz, who provided a thoughtful answer.

"Lantz’s best explanation is that Drop7 occupies a 'hinge in the universe' that is at once mathematical (it allows you to play between the ordinal and cardinal meanings of a number) and spiritual: it holds you in a place between conscious problem-­solving and pure intoxication," Anderson writes. "Which, come to think of it, is probably the cognitive signature of all the great stupid games."

Whether or not you think Angry Birds and its ilk are a complete waste of time, the article is an engaging and fascinating discussion of the mobile gaming phenomenon.

And even if you don’t have the longest of attention spans, the folks behind the Times have embedded a cute and, yes, addictive shooting game in which you can blast away at pretty much everything on the web page, including the navigation links, ads, the Most Read Stories section, and comments that you don’t like. Go check it out.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.