Back in November, R. downloaded a game onto to our iPad mini. I hadn’t heard of The Simpsons: Tapped Out, and when he showed it to me after playing for a couple of days, I didn’t immediately get it. Developed by EA, Tapped Out is a simulator featuring the Simpsons. The game opens with a nuclear meltdown leveling Springfield. The player’s task is to rebuild the town, unlocking characters by constructing their associated domiciles and buildings. Delightfully, most of the characters are voiced, with new and true-to-character soundbites.
Starting with only Homer and Lisa (a nice pair, as their odd-couple dialogue recalls the back-and-forth on the tv show), the player assigns tasks to characters that take a set amount of real time to complete, ranging from a few seconds to a full day. Completion of tasks earns money and experience, gradually unlocking more buildings, characters, and decorations (everything from trees and plants to dumpsters and stop signs). Gameplay therefore tends to happen in short (2-5 minute) bursts, every few hours or once a day or whatever you like. The game is a free download with real-money microtransactions available to speed up completion of tasks or to get bonus goodies. As a rule, I don’t do microtransactions (though I’d have been happy to pay a reasonable price for the full game) so I have played strictly the free game.
It took only a few days of play for me to get hooked. I’m told that Tapped Out has a very similar format to the once-ubiquitous Farmville, a game I haven’t played. It’s clear to anyone that uses Facebook that Farmville was a highly addictive game, so it makes sense that Tapped Out is as well. Plus, as a child/teen of the 90s, I am naturally a longtime Simpsons fan, so the chance to play a simulator featuring the beloved and familiar characters, town, animation style, and classic jokes is a real draw. (For Valentine’s Day this year, one holiday-specific reward was a Choo-Choo-Choose You train. I can’t pretend to be immune to such a delightful bit of nostalgia).
Lots of games are loot-driven, or based on the general promise of unlocking new “things” that tempt the player ever forward. Tapped Out combines this time-tested reward system with nostalgic familiarity, and that intersection is exactly where massive addictive potential is born. If I was playing a game with similar gameplay but not based on anything familiar, I might be kind of looking forward to obtaining new characters (or whatever), but that drive would be based only on the desire to achieve (applicable to virtually every game) and perhaps some vague curiosity.
Curiosity cannot compete with the feeling I get when I am assigned the task of building Springfield’s Buddhist Temple, which will unlock Lenny and Carl. Lenny and Carl! I love those guys, and their banter! I can’t wait to see what their assignments, dialogue, and animations will be! I gotta build that temple! Or, I can build Burns Manor, and unlock Smithers. He’s finally out of the closet! He has some of the best animations! (Some of his assignments: “Whip It” with his licorice whip, pictured below; “Become a Hideous Drunken Wreck”; “Exercise for Mr. Burns” by independently powering a two-person bike; etc.) How delightful to hear Smithers finally exclaim “I’m experiencing a whole rainbow of gay feelings!” and more suggestively, “Mr. Burns has an enchanting musk…” This is GOOD STUFF.
Additionally, Tapped Out is constantly churning out seasonal updates. For Valentine’s Day, there are lots of new missions and mini-plotlines. (Players were gifted with the classic one-off character Mindy, Homer’s alluring coworker and near-mistress.) There is also a heart currency introduced for a two-week period, which can be accrued a few different ways and traded for love-themed prizes and decorations. The multiplayer component of Tapped Out, while generally minimal (you can visit other players’ Springfields and produce small amounts of cash for yourself and them by doing so), is more prominent as the main way to obtain hearts is to send Valentine cards to other players’ characters. Christmas offered a similar selection of holiday-themed content, and even minor occasions like the Superbowl or (American) Presidents’ Day warrant mention and small gifts within the game.
You never know what’s coming next in Tapped Out, but you can sure it’s going to be something you loved from the Simpsons, and that is what keeps you hooked. For now, I’ll keep saving up money to build Rainier Wolfcastle’s mansion. Up and at them!