Curiosity: A worthwhile shame

I played Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube.

I played it for a few hours over the course of its six-month lifespan. I feel a small amount of shame in confessing this, shame that I don't feel about anything else I've ever played – not Hooters Road Trip, not Dragon Power, nor any of the other terrible things I've subjected myself to. At least those things were games. Curiosity is a repetitive chore with a thin layer of "game" over it. It's gamification, applied to nothing.

But despite making fun of it relentlessly – and, on a couple of occasions, even simultaneously while making fun of it – I tapped cubes. My ironic detachment failed, and I couldn't help but buy into the hype on some level, at least enough to participate.

I admit that even though I knew it was a dumb game predicated on a promise from someone notorious for hyperbolic and unfulfilled promises, the novelty of the "life-changing prize" intrigued me. And so I joined thousands of strangers in helping some guy scratch off the world's most annoying lottery ticket.

Now it's over, and the prize has been revealed as the only thing it could ever have been: input in, and a piece of, 22Cans' next game, Godus. In retrospect, what else did I think it would be? What other resource would Peter Molyneux have to give from, and what else would he find meaningful to give? Even he dismissed the idea of a cash payout as uninteresting (but probably not unwelcome). Absolutely anything would have been a disappointment to most Curiosity players, who have had six months to daydream about what would be bestowed upon them while absentmindedly crushing virtual cubes.

I actually think that prize counts as "life-changing" for the winner, as it could lead to anything from a nice story to a crash course in game design with an emphasis on balance. And as a nice bonus, it makes Godus a lot more interesting than it was before. Previously, the concept was "Populous, but paid for by your Kickstarter money," which isn't as novel a design as "Populous, subject to the whims of Bryan Henderson."

Even if Curiosity wasn't inherently the best video game, and even though I feel like I'm confessing to something deeply humiliating, there are good reasons for me to have played it. It is, at least, interesting in retrospect. The prize at the end was strong enough of a motivator to get thousands of people to do something completely pointless, proving the point Molyneux put right into the title: curiosity is a powerful motivator, and present in people. As a journalist, I think a strong sense of curiosity is a good trait to have! Why, put that way, any game journalist who didn't obsessively play Curiosity is remiss! That's the ticket! I also had designs on securing an exclusive interview with the person who finally reached the chewy center of the Molygon ... by being that person myself.

I also think there was a real "community" appeal to Curiosity, tapped into in more noticeable ways by games like Journey and Demon's Souls. There's something really appealing about collaborating with total strangers in a game to achieve a common goal. Menial tasks are more satisfying when they gain you access to a community. Even a totally anonymous community of people who spend hours chiseling dicks into a nice man's experiment.

It was kind of fascinating to watch the community create emergent gameplay where there was none. And, yes, by "emergent gameplay" I mean the dicks, along with all the other messages painstakingly scrawled into the cube, purely for the amusement of themselves and the other players rapidly working to destroy those messages. There was no reason to do that, but then, there wasn't much intrinsic reason to play Curiosity at all.

Despite all the overblown rhetoric from the developer side and all the derision from the player side, I think Curiosity was a worthwhile endeavor. Its widespread collaborative nature and finite lifespan felt like new ideas worth exploring. And in this age of ballooning budgets and feature creep, any game bold enough to be as lean as Curiosity is worth playing. And that's why I'm admitting that I played it.