Opinion: Confessions of a Pixel People Addict

    I fell hard for Pixel People. I don’t enjoy many freemium games, so I was surprised by how quickly I took to the game. I spent hours splicing clones, creating jobs, constructing buildings, and ridding my city of alert icons, all in a quest for more currency. I was content. I was gleeful. I was addicted.

    Before playing Pixel People, I would go days without charging my iPad. But after I started playing, I was running out of juice constantly. I’d plug it in and go about my business, trying to forget about all the coins and utopium I was missing out on. Within a half hour I’d grab it back, only 15% charged, and tap away feverishly.

    I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t care. Once when the battery was at 2%, I walked across the room to plug in the iPad, then walked back and sat back down. But when looked at my lap, the iPad was there, and Pixel People was open, and I was tapping the screen.

    The game operates on the same principle as a Skinner Box or a slot machine: It gives you randomized rewards that reinforce a particular behavior. With slot machines, the behavior is pulling a lever. With Pixel People, it’s tapping icons on the screen. The more time you spend tapping, the greater your wealth grows. When you have enough money, you can expand your land, which lets you splice more clones and build more buildings, which generates more money, and on and on. Each time I tapped something, a spark of joy lit up in my brain. I didn’t want to stop.

    When I hit the freemium wall– the point when progress slows considerably unless you pay real money– I spent my time plotting out my next moves. I scoured the web for job combinations and made lists like the one below. I made my city less cluttered by putting waterways between buildings. Because I was looking at it for hours on end, I wanted it to appear open and inviting.

    pixel-people-list-2

    But then Monday morning rolled around, and I had work to do. I answered some emails, and I installed a block of trees. I looked for news to post, and I created a time traveler clone. I had to work, but I didn’t want to stop tapping at Pixel People. I knew that as long as I had the game on my iPad, my chances of getting anything done were nil. So I bolstered my fortitude and deleted the game.

    Pixel People is an excellent game, in large part because it’s very good at what it does. I still think it deserves the Must Have score I gave it in our review. But I was afraid it would ruin my life. I miss it, but I know I made the right decision.

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