Plants vs. Zombies: It’s definitely a game and it’s actually really fun

Posted: February 4, 2013 by bisquickbismarck in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I decided to play Plants vs. Zombies for my play journal because of all the types of games I’ve played, I think the sort of game Plants vs. Zombies is (going by a vague notion rather than a specific definition) is probably a type of game I have spent little to no time thinking extensively about. Expansive, elaborate games with an interesting plot, an immersive environment, well-developed worldbuilding, solid character dynamics, a unique aesthetic, and engaging gameplay – those types of games I’d say I’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time thinking about. Plants vs. Zombies is not that type of game. There is no plot involved, no immersive environment to explore, no particular characters. The art’s nice and the designs are cute, but not exceptionally stunning. The gameplay’s complexity and difficulty increase as you progress through the Adventure mode’s levels, but on the whole it’s pretty straightforward. However, none of this really detracts from how fun the game is for me. I found myself easily and immediately accepting the game’s invitation of “Next Level?” after each round without growing bored. This led me to think a little about not just what constitutes a game, but what constitutes a good game? How does a comparatively simple game like Plants vs. Zombies compare to much more sophisticated games?Image

As far as what constitutes a game in general, I took a look at how Plants vs. Zombies stacks up compared with the formal elements of play outlined by Huizinga. Plants vs. Zombies is certainly a voluntary activity. It’s even more “voluntary” (in the sense that you can start playing and stop playing whenever you want) than most games I’d usually play. I tend to play a lot of games where you run into points where saving and quitting is impossible or extremely inconvenient, so once I start a dungeon or mission or something I need to at least play through to its conclusion. Since I tend to take my time in playing that could potentially take me a while. Levels in Adventure mode or the Minigames of Plants vs. Zombies are pretty short. You can also pause, restart, or leave a round whenever you want without consequences. You can technically just up and quit any game at any point, shut off the console and leave, but usually you’ll feel a much more significant loss of progress. I found that the way Plants vs. Zombies is set up makes it really convenient as a quick distraction or break from work. When starting out, I would play a couple rounds at a time between doing readings or homework without the game consuming too much of my work time or making me feel pressured to continue playing. On the other hand, when I decided to go ahead and play for a solid hour or more I got easily caught up in how addictive the game can be. Part of why Plants vs. Zombies is fun and can be easy to get caught up in is because of how bizarre it is, how clearly distinct from real ordinary life as Huizinga requires of games.  I mean it’s a game where you defend your house from hordes of various types of zombies using a bunch of smiling plants that pop out miniature suns, shoot projectiles, and explode. It’s pretty silly. It’s fun.

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Regarding limits and order, Plants vs. Zombies definitely involves many sets of rules and maintains an internal and specific sense of order within the game. Like I said, the game has a bizarre premise so playing the game requires you to operate in a world where you understand things like, “I need to collect all these little suns to buy plants”, “walnuts take a long time to regenerate so you should keep track of when you plant them”, and “disco zombies periodically start dancing to summon 4 additional zombies so you should prioritize eliminating them.” More rules are constantly added to your understanding of the game as you progress and unlock more items, terrains, and zombies. It all progresses in a pretty intuitive way though. I suppose I’ll talk more about the gameplay next post probably. The only element of Huzinga’s definition of play I thought did not match up with Plants vs. Zombies much at all was the concept of the game building a specific gamer culture around itself that stressed differentiation between “us” and “others.” I know people talk about the game and share different strategies for it in some places online but I have yet to encounter any exclusive culture for it. I mean, Plants vs. Zombies, like Angry Birds, or Tetris, or Bejeweled is extremely accessible. Anybody can play it. Once I saw a 3 or 4 year old play it on an ipad on a plane. I find that kind of nice though. I think the accessibility of it adds to my enjoyment of this particular game.

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Comments
  1. suzannescott says:

    Overall, this is a great post, both in terms of scope and analysis. Your discussion of play as a voluntary activity as it applies to PvsZ (or maybe casual games generally), is especially strong. Where you might have fleshed this out a bit more is in your discussion of “us vs. them” gamer culture and the game’s accessibility, which seems to simultaneously be its strength and weakness (even you make a point of noting it’s not the type of game you are drawn to).

    General note for the next post- the images here are great, but you should try to create more of a dialogue between these visual representations and your analysis (in other words, where are the disco zombies?!). All joking aside, you want to use the images to reinforce your analysis, this might mean explicitly gesturing to an image in the text/body of your post to guide the reader’s interpretation.

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