Playing With Your Dinner

We’ve been playing Tales of Monkey Island lately. A lot of it. We were spurred on after playing through Monkey Island 2 Special Edition on the XBOX before that. We simply cannot get enough Guybrush Threepwood at the moment.

Recommendations of the Tales series of games (once you get over the weird 3D graphics) aside, the most notable thing about the game is how they’ve dominated out media consumption in ways we didn’t quite foresee.

Being a modern couple, we watch a whole shitload of movies and TV series when we eat our meals. Yeah, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – we’re watching something. That’s what meals are for. Surprisingly, though, Tales of Monkey Island has taken over all of that.

Surprising because of course it’s interactive – you have to play, you don’t just watch. Presumably the appeal of watching TV during a meal is that you can kick back and eat without having to do anything except at worst miss your mouth a few times while you read the subtitles of a French movie. With these games you have to move the avatar, select objects, pick through dialog trees and so on.

And yet it’s not disruptive, really. We’ve moved from trackpad and arrow keys (fine) to mouse (kind of horrible) to my graphics tablet, which is very usable with the games and allows us to sit back in a more “watching” posture, while still controlling the game. We eat our meals, talk about what’s happening in the game and what we should be trying and, between bites, navigate through the world and solve puzzles (feeling like the smartest amateur pirates in the world!).

It’s plausible that adventure games like Tales are a rarity in terms of being playable during a meal – they don’t have real-time reaction dependency (unlike a first-person shooter), they’re easy to pick up and put down (unlike turn-based strategy), and they’re not too mentally taxing (unlike real-time strategy). Plus the Monkey Island games are, of course, wonderful in tone and humour, making them not just engaging to play, but a pleasure to watch during the watching bits.

I can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of sign of the times, or of the future. Admittedly Rilla and I are more likely to experiment with playing games in different contexts because of our profession, but the ease of integration and the simple pleasure we get out of playing in this way suggests this might be a more generally desirable way of spending meal-times. Note, for instance, that unlike television you’re encouraged to talk to each other because of the puzzles and can do so without “risk” because games are so helpfully repetitive that you can’t really miss anything important. And, as I said, we get to feel clever at the same time.

My only caveat from a personal perspective would be the rather hollow eyed feeling I can get from playing gams, and this seems to apply to the Monkey Island Mealtimes, too – I suspect it’s connected with overstimulation. Bright colours! Funny dialog! Ridiculous puzzles! Oh my!

But of course those are also the things that make it great. Try it sometime.

8 August 2010
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