The Online Games Grown-Ups Play
Melissa Prusher plays an online version of Scrabble called Lexulous with her chiropractor. Bob Lawrence plays the hit vocabulary game Words with Friends with his son. Neil Goldstein plays a game set in medieval times called Carcassonne on his iPad with opponents he meets online.
Now adults have discovered social games -- and they're getting hooked.
The over-40 crowd is playing, and talking about playing, every chance they get -- between work phone calls, doing housework, over the breakfast table and at night instead of watching TV. People even go on Twitter to find partners. Search the phrase "Words with Friends" on the social network, and you'll see hundreds of tweets from adults looking for opponents.
Games That Make You Think
Social games are a hit with people of a certain age because, unlike shoot-em-up games, they make you think, says Joel Don, a fortysomething public relations executive from Trabuco Canyon, California.
"It's a straight intellectual challenge," Don says of Words with Friends, which he plays with his teenage son. "It's an easy sell to people who are not interested in moving colorful pixel blobs around a screen or smashing discontented birds into piglets."
Social games also let people reconnect with out-of-town friends or family in a very natural, stress-free way, says Jen Holmes, a spokeswoman for YooMee, a website for online multiplayer skills games such as Alphabet Jungle and CubeCrasher. "It's a way to do an activity together despite being separated by physical distance," she says.
These days, the average social gamer in the United States or United Kingdom is a 43-year-old woman, according to a 2010 study from PopCap, the social games developer behind Bejeweled and Insaniquarium, as reported in this story in The New York Times,
That comes pretty close to describing Melissa Prusher, 44, of Manalapan, N.J., who saw her chiropractor playing Lexulous during an office visit two years ago. They've competed against each other almost every day since, with Prusher playing from her BlackBerry or iPad via email so she can make moves when it fits her schedule. "I usually play first thing in the morning or at the end of the day," she says.
Bob Lawrence, a 55-year-old Portland, Ore., communications consultant, plays Words with Friends on his iPad when he's on hold on a phone call, between activities "or just taking a break to refresh." He figures the four or five times a day that he plays against friends or his son adds up to about 15 minutes. It's a good way to stay in touch, "and we enjoy the competition," he says.
"Beautifully Rendered" on the iPad
Neil Goldstein, a 59-year-old real estate appraiser and musician from Portland, got hooked on Carcassonne when neighbors introduced him to the board version of the game, in which players build a medieval German landscape. Then he discovered the $9.99 virtual edition for the iPad. "I was delighted to find it is beautifully rendered on the iPad," he says. "I'm getting more addicted. It's in real time; you automatically lose if you don't move in 90 seconds." He also plays Words with Friends against his daughter and friends.
If people are spending so much time playing games, what are they doing less of? Watching TV, says Eiko Ross, 53, a Caldwell, N.J., resident and fan of Farmville, the Facebook game with an estimated 62 million registered players who plow, plant and harvest crops on virtual farms.
In fact, people play so much, they say it would be hard to stop. Shirin Forsyth, 48, a Portland stay-at-home mother of two, started playing Words with Friends with four of her friends during spring break. Now she plays three or four times a week from her iPhone while she's making lunches or doing housework. She also plays Scrabble, Solitaire and Bookworm by herself. Giving any of it up "would be a real deprivation," she says.
Yes, social games might be hard to give up, but "Why would you want to?" Goldstein asks. "These games are good exercise for the brain, and playing with other people is fun," he says. "Nobody's getting hurt, and it's inexpensive entertainment."
Want in on the fun? Here's more information on popular social games or game sites:
- Bejeweled. One of the biggest puzzle games ever, it's been downloaded onto 150 million phones since 2004, according to PopCap; available online or for the iPhone or iPad.
- Carcassonne.The iPad version of the classic German board game is available in multiplayer or solitaire mode.
- Farmville. Virtual farming game from Zynga, the giant of the social gaming business. Available on Facebook, online or for the iPhone or iPad.
- Game Duell. Online multiplayer game site that claims to host 200,000 logic, card, board, action and other games a day.
- Lexulous. An online crossword game for 2 or 4 players; available online, and for iPhone, iTouch, BlackBerry and Nokia phones.
- Mafia Wars. "The definitive mafia experience." From Zynga; available on Facebook or for the iPhone.
- Words with Friends. Crossword-style vocabulary game; available on Facebook or for the iPhone or iPad. Zynga makes a similar game called Chess with Friends.
- YooMee Games. Game site for playing or downloading free social games; allows players to place bets on games such as Alphabet Jungle, Cube Crasher and WordStone.
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