One of my all-time favorite iOS games1 receives a big update today. Alto's Adventure has added two new modes, an endless relaxing Zen Mode and a Photo Mode for sharing your favorite moments.
Zen Mode is a new way to experience the game. We've stripped away many things from hillside; no scores, no coins, no powerups, and distilled the game down to its purest elements. There's no on-screen UI competing for your attention -- it's just you and the endless mountain.
The developers were persuaded to add this mode because of letters from fans who liked the relaxing aspect of the game. An excerpt from one such letter:
I play games as a way to calm me down when I'm feeling anxious or down. But it's been difficult to find games at the moment that don't feel aggressive and violent (not that I'm against dealing out justice as Batman or taking out bad guys as Nathan Drake, they are good fun!)
Your game offers something different. Alto's Adventure doesn't make me more stressed than I already am. Skiing down a mountain is calming (especially helped by the music, props to your music maker!). It makes me feel as if I'm progressing and being productive without the frustrations of getting to that next level in narrative games or other mobile games.
I've played Alto's Adventure a lot over the past year and a half. Like very a lot. At first, I played because the game was fun and I wanted to beat it. But eventually, I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious.1 It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don't even notice anymore...which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can't control.
So thanks to Snowman for building such a great game...I truly don't know what I would have done without it.
Update: From Sherry Turkle's 1984 book The Second Self, a video gamer talking about how playing games make him feel:
Well, it's almost, at the risk of sounding, uh, ridiculous, if you will, it's almost a Zen type of thing... where I can direct myself totally and not feel directed at all. You're totally absorbed and it is all happening there. You know what you are supposed to do. There's not external confusion, there's no conflicting goals, there's none of the complexities that the rest of the world is filled with. It's so simple. You either get through this little maze so that the creature doesn't swallow you up or you don't. And if you can focus your attention on that, and if you can really learn what you are supposed to do, then you really are in relationship to the game.
And Turkle adds (emphasis mine):
When he plays video games, he experiences another kind of relaxation, the relaxation of being on the line. He feels "totally focused, totally concentrated." And yet David, like Marty and Roger, indeed like all successful players of video games, describes the sense in which the highest degree of focus and concentration comes from a letting go of both.
I feel exactly that while playing Alto's Adventure. Total relaxed concentration.
Also, after this post alerted Corey Glynn to the existence of a global high score list (on which he held 15th place), he went out and absolutely crushed the high score by more than 2 million points. I bow to your superior skill, sir. (via @mznewman)
In the NYT, Sherry Turkle provides the backup data to confirm what you already know about the digital age: Stop Googling. Let's Talk.
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel ... Even a silent phone disconnects us.
Tom Vanderbilt says Americans don't walk as much as they used to; automobile usage has eaten into our perambulation time.
If walking is a casualty of modern life the world over -- the historian Joe Moran estimates, for instance, that in the last quarter century in the U.K., the amount of walking has declined by 25 percent -- why then do Americans walk even less than people in other countries? Here we need to look not at pedometers, but at the odometer: We drive more than anyone else in the world. (Hence a joke: In America a pedestrian is someone who has just parked their car.) Statistics on walking are more elusive than those on driving, but from the latter one might infer the former: The National Household Travel Survey shows that the number of vehicle trips a person took and the miles they traveled per day rose from 2.32 trips and 20.64 miles in 1969 to 3.35 and 32.73 in 2001. More time spent driving means less time spent on other activities, including walking. And part of the reason we are driving more is that we are living farther from the places we need to go; to take just one measure, in 1969, roughly half of all children lived a mile or more from their school; by 2001 three out of four did. During that same period, unsurprisingly, the rates of children walking to school dropped from roughly half to approximately 13 percent.
Sherry Turkle says young Americans don't converse as much as they used to; usage of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPod has eaten into our chat time.
A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn't stop by to talk; he doesn't call. He says that he doesn't want to interrupt them. He says they're "too busy on their e-mail." But then he pauses and corrects himself. "I'm not telling the truth. I'm the one who doesn't want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I'd rather just do things on my BlackBerry."
A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, "Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."
In today's workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. "Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits." With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.
A cockpit or perhaps the safe bubble of the automobile? Steve Jobs was fond of saying the personal computer was "a bicycle for our mind":
I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn't look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.
And that's what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it's the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with, and it's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds."
Perhaps then the iPhone is an automobile for our mind in that it allows us to go anywhere very quickly but isolates us along the way.
ps. This photo that accompanies Vanderbilt's article is kind of amazing:
Totally speechless. I think it's further from my desk to the bathroom here in the office than it is from that house to the bus.