Usually when I write about games on this site, I am concerned with fairly complex social and psychological questions contemporary games provide. In many instances, I approach gaming not from the childlike “shut up and smash the button” perspective, but from the “what exactly is this game doing to my mind” perspective.
When I write, I’m obviously curating the content and not giving the full view of my side as a gamer. There’s a lot about my gaming interests to this day that involve mindlessness, involve non-intellectualism, involve joy. I thought I’d mention a little game called Nidhogg, which is the perfect example of my mindlessness.
Why is this game fun? It’s basic in the same way Pong is basic: exert your energy and attempt to complete a level without dying. What did it for me, what drew me in and turned my mind off with Nidhogg, is that sheer repetition that is the swordplay and splattering of the guts of both me and the bot. While humanity is portrayed and “killing” is exactly what you’re doing, the game manages to be fun and effortless, without narrative arch at all to keep the mind constantly questioning any actions.
In that way, we have here a game that is devoid of narration but not the substance of the game. Like Dance Dance Revolution or Time Crisis, Nidhogg is a game about mastering the mechanics, the functions of the player, in order to “win the game.” But it’s a beautifully minimalist game involving swords, intense combat, and beautiful pixellated imagery. Some kind of surrealism is going on in the game world, a type that allows you to avoid (easily avoid, mind you, almost subconsciously) thinking about what you’re doing.
A lot of mobile games are mindless and simply fun. They aren’t all engaging in violence like Nidhogg is. They aren’t all splatters of rainbow colors going in every direction and near epileptic levels of chaos in the imagery and flickers of the game’s environment. But a lot of them are mindless. I’ve played a lot of mindless games, and I think it’s a trend that a lot of people in general are experiencing. The appeal to escape the world and simply find joy or fun in an activity for an hour. The idea of the “long form” or “long thought” or any sense of extended content and enduring commitment or engagement that has significant payoff. But, curiously, the payoff in Nidhogg is actually minimal. There aren’t really any achievements to go after. The tournament is downplayed. Playing the game is an activity akin to stretching. You want to stretch your fingers, stretch particular pathways of recognizing patterns. And that’s it. Then you can turn it off.
I felt myself play, get exhausted, and then stop. Unlike games that have goals of achievement, where the game rewards you in specific ways for longer playing. Nidhogg is far from that. It does not even give the allusion to that. After the 4th or 5th round, the gamer knows what the game is about, and the game simply becomes a fun journey into watching the self get better at obliterating the opponent.