Until my mid 20s I loved doing jigsaw puzzles. It was an act which baffled my sister. She would wander into the living room at Christmas to find me sifting through pieces, sorting them into piles, as Midsomer Murders played on the telly. “It’s a con!” she would yell, hoping to make me see the light. “They took a nice picture, ruined it by chopping it up, and now you’re PAYING THEM to allow you to put it back together WORSE than before.”
She had a point, but I still enjoyed myself. I find fulfilling those kinds of low-pressure mechanical tasks incredibly rewarding. My cat also enjoyed jigsaw puzzle time but only because he liked squeezing into a box he was too fat for and then assuming that me trying to get at the pieces was “stroking and tickle time”.
It’s the same type of pleasure I associate with hidden object games. You know the basic shape of what you’re looking for, there’s the satisfaction of completion and there’s rarely any meaningful penalty for messing up. They’re a little oasis of calm amongst the Dotas and the Heroes of the Storms – games where everything I love about hidden object adventures disappears in a miasma of stress and flexibility.
Some hidden object adventures seek to complicate the genre, adding action sections or extra tasks. I’m okay with the tasks, usually because they’re often an untaxing riff on the sort of puzzles you might find in Professor Layton. Sometimes there’s even a jigsaw puzzle and I’m as happy as a big cat in a tiny cardboard box. Others try to take the genre in directions I do not care for. Detective work and the like.
Mate, I’m here to find unlikely versions of household objects in what seems to be the residence of a compulsive hoarder with a butterfly infestation. I do not have the time or patience to solve your other problems.
Actually, that brings me to another fondness when it comes to hidden object adventures: I really love their odd object vocabulary. Objects are plucked from various historical periods and jammed into the scene. There’s a peculiar mental checklist you develop as you play these games and learn to scan for particular shapes until you find the iteration you’re looking for.
You’ll be asked to find a fan and it will be one of three things:
1. a desk fan from the fifties
2. an ornate wooden fan unfurled into a familiar semicircle
3. a palm fan which looks at first glance like a table tennis paddle
You might then be asked to spot the telephone and that’s generally one of these:
1. a very old desk set where the earpiece hangs next to the voice input
2. the sort of receiver model you might use to phone Batman but with a dial
3. the sort of receiver model you might use to phone Batman but with buttons
In addition to learning these object types, I’ve grown accustomed to oil cans that look more like a cross between a piping bag and a pipette rather than what’s in my actual garage, bizarrely imposing thermometers, hand scythes which are routinely stored in pantries, radios ripped from the counter of a fifties diner…
I like that there’s no attempt to explain the in-game rationale behind these things. It’s because videogames. Of course the furnace room contains an owl and a fork and a staple gun and a metal crow. If it didn’t you wouldn’t be able to tick them off your list.
My fondness doesn’t mean I accept the genre’s shortcoming’s willingly, but I think they might be slightly different to the usual objections. For example, I don’t actually mind silly or overblown point horror or point romance style stories which play out in the background because the object finding element a) sets a tone that’s less than serious anyway and b) is the point of the games for me rather than any narrative. I mean, I love Poirot but I play the Death On The Nile hidden object game because I want to find objects not because of how that particular tale unfolds. I certainly didn’t play the one about finding the crown jewels on the Titanic for plot reasons. I can’t tell you the first thing about the plot of either of the Murder She Wrote hidden object games either.
The part I do mind is when games try to force you to download yet another proprietary game client, attempting to funnel you towards all manner of advertising and extra payments. Or any of those acts separately, actually. When you know scenes are being recycled already given the amount of times you revisit locations and that not a vast amount has been spent on the writing, the money being asked and the mailing lists and the install requests feel like a disproportionately big ask – an extra investment of personal data or cash or similar. That’s not a universal complaint, just one which crops up from time to time and I feel like that stuff is designed to take advantage of players who are less tech savvy.
With jigsaw puzzles I reached an end point because anything with a picture was too easy. I entered the realms of single colour puzzles with thousands of pieces, or those baked bean puzzles with no picture on the box and no edge pieces. They started taking up too much space and a lot of the pleasure dissipated.
Hidden object adventures are still satisfying because they still manage to wrongfoot me every so often with some bizarre take on a household item or a pen (the fountain pen rather than the quill, obviously) which almost perfectly blends into the edge of a shelf and takes whole minutes to track down. When they don’t I make up my own rules. On easy scenes I go for speed runs or for more measured attempts where the aim is to never miss a beat, clicking a new object from the list every two seconds.
Oh, and in terms of disapproval or bafflement I get that from nearly all of my gaming friends and my partner BUT never my sister. She actually loves hidden object adventures too. I’m going to message her later and see if she wants to play the Titanic one co-operatively. Literally no-one else I know will say yes.
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