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Why 22cans’ Curiosity can be called a game – And a good one
by Anthony Pigeot on 11/08/12 05:34:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Hey guys.

As you may or may not know, Curiosity has been released. It is a game for Android and iOS.

For some reasons, there is a lot of rage going on this game/experience. I am very interested in Curiosity, and feel like no one is defending this game. That's why I will try to  explain why Curiosity is actually a game and why it deserves more credit than what you can currently read all over the internet.

Please, do not hesitate to give me your feedback by commenting or mailing me. I would love to hear from you.

First things first

Curiosity is a game created by 22cans.

22cans is a startup created by Peter Molyneux and other game industry's veterans. I will not in this article write about this guy. My point is about Curiosity, and not about defending the guy creating it. I precise this because it seems that many people don't like Curiosity just because of its creator, and that is a stupid way of thinking.

Here is how Curiosity has been presented in this video :

It's a black cube in the corner of this white room, you can tap on the cube and eventually you can find out what's in the center of the cube.

Let's compare this with a definition of game. Of course, there is no right definition for a game, and not everyone agrees on that point. But most of the industry is okay for the essential points. I will take Jesse Schell's definition which I think is pretty cool. If you want more precisions on this one, read his book.

A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.

So, games are about solving a problem. Basically, what you need to do this is :

  • A problem
  • Some ways (skills) to solve it
  • A playfull attitude

In Curiosity our problem is the cube. We need to destroy it to find what's inside. Our available method to do it is to tap on it. The playerfull attitude comes with all the block typing with its combos, and the competition with other players. More on it later in this article.

This is basically it. I could stop writing here and that would be enough.

Of course, I will go more in depth and explain why Curiosity is a unique experience, and why there is more complex interactions between the player and the cube and between the players themselves than you can think first.

Games are about experiences. And the experience behind Curiosity can be a strong one.

A Pure Experience

Many people are saying that "this is stupid, you're just tapping blocks that is not a game".

I am tempted to answer "Minecraft", but I will resist.

This is right. The player is just tapping blocks. Many games can be resumed as simply as that. "Tetris is about placing blocks".

But wait, there is more to it than meets the eyes. The game mechanics are extremely simple that is true. But this is what makes a lot of people able to play. If you had a scenario, a deep gameplay and stuff, you would have many motivations to play the game. Here, this experience is about Curiosity. Will you be curious enough to tap blocks for hours ? That's it. The experience is pure because if we had filled it with complex mechanics, then it wouldn't be about curiosity anymore.

But the thing is that a very simple system (here, a cube you tap) can generate complex interactions.

And I think a good game is able to generate stories from something very simple. By stories, I mean that you will be able to tell your friends "Hey, I was playing this, and that happened . Isn't that awesome ?".

Here are a few reasons why Curiosity can create such things.

Competition and Cooperation

The game mechanics are to be studied with a context. And the context is a big "gold rush" of 250,000 people trying to be the very best, like no one ever was.

Let's take this : 250,000 people trying to break one cube. Did you ever see this once ? Can you find any single MMORPG or whatever that achieved this ? I don't.

There is a nice mix of competition and cooperation in Curiosity. And these two things are some key elements of many games.

The competition is about breaking the cube. Only one person will find out what is at the center. That means that, alone, you have almost not a chance to be the winner. But you still have one.

The cooperation is also about breaking the cube. One person alone will never be able to break a cube this big, or it'd take years. This means that all players need to break the cube together.

If people were just totally selfish, they would just wait for the last level and no one would break the first layers. But this is not what happens. Everyone is hitting the cube together. You're playing with and against the whole world (at least, the part that installed the application).

So why is everyone hitting the cube right now ? I think this is about the journey more than the destination. It may sound stupid, but having so much people together doing one thing is a really strong motivator. Even if this thing is as simple as "tapping a cube". The player can feel like a part of a big thing. A really big thing. Even if I don't win, I will be able to say "Dude, I broke 6,000 pieces of this giant cube. I was part of it."

 The power to Create - And Destroy

Curiosity gives the player the power to destroy. But by destroying, you can actually destroy.

When you tap a block, the layer behind it reveals itself. That means that if you destroy a red block, you will see the green block behind it. So, what is our natural reaction with this ? Drawing stuff.

As I am writing this article, there is hundred of drawing that have been made on the cube. Some people wrote stuff, some other made complex geometric forms. Some just made big rectangle fields, or whatever. But the point is that people are given the power to create.

But this is not just it. The players are given the power to destroy. And what is interesting is that most of the time they don't. Players respect the creations of other players even if they are totally anonymous. Even better, sometimes they help you achieve your creation by helping you to break the blocks you need to break. This is a strong interaction. With no communication, players are able to cooperate in a complex activity. It somehow reminds me of the multiplayer mode of Journey.

Why Curiosity can give us lessons

I could continue to explain things about this game (for exemple about the strategy of tapping blocks, with the combos and stuff) but this article is getting long so I will say my last word.

I would just like to say that Curiosity has been created as an experience. And as every experience is supposed to, Curiosity can teach us some things.

When this experiment will come to an end, I don't know if 22cans will make public conclusion about this but I hope so. Anyway, here are things we could learn :

  • Is curiosity enough to make you pay $55,000 while not even being sure of getting results ?
  • Is curiosity enough to make you tap your phone for hours and doing nothing else ?
  • Is curiosity enough to make a big group of people associate and pay $55,000, and then share the result ? (Let's create a Curiosity Diamond Kickstarter, I'm pretty sure it'd work. I can't do it because kickstarter isn't in France. But please do it.)
  • Will the servers keep up ? (Oh wait. That's not a lesson).
So here it is. I think I have said what I had to say. I hope that by reading this you will start thinking about curiosity more seriously and maybe come with awesome reflexions about this game. I think there so much more to it than tapping stuff.

Please give me your feedback :)

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