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Creative challenges in Android gaming

by Phil Owen

Knife That GuyYou might have noticed that the game Knife That Guy made an appearance in a recent Android Games of the Week. For those who don’t enjoy tangents, I'll just give you the short version. In Knife That Guy, the goal is to make your little dude run up to a particular guy and knife him, while avoiding all the other people wandering around your screen. If you kill too many non-targets or take too long in hitting the right guy, you will stab yourself.

I've been pondering this game for about a week now and remain far from deciphering its logic. It could be that it means nothing, and that Knife That Guy is just yet another mindless, pointless mobile game experience. But this particular game is so aesthetically odd, and it's got such a mean and twisted side that goes far beyond what we would normally expect from a phone game, and so I have to believe there is something more to it.


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The fact is that mobile gaming is quite shallow, more often than not. While sad, this potential truism doesn't prevent me from enjoying myself with quick-and-dirty game experiences. After all, if I didn't enjoy mobile gaming, why would I play 5-10 new Google Play releases every week?

I play Knife That Guy, and I see a gameplay experience that fits in perfectly with the mobile scene, and I also see a game that has something to say, even if it isn’t upfront about its motivations. That I don't understand it could mean that the message is ineffective, or it could be that I’m missing out on something key. Honestly, mobile gaming has trained me to not think about anything other than mechanics, and so I'm at a disadvantage when an attempt at artistic expression shows up on my phone.

Though touchscreen gaming is unique to today in the history of gaming, I don't really consider most mobile games to be current-generation experiences. They are, instead, born of an era when games weren't so complicated, and you didn't need twelve buttons and two joysticks to play them. That, I think, is the appeal. They are very entertaining, and you don't have to be trained to play most of them. Pretty much anybody can pick up and play with ease, and they typically don’t require large time commitments or emotional investments.

Unfortunately, it feels as if most folks developing mobile games have all the artistic ambition of the person who designs IKEA futons. Don't get me wrong here – my IKEA futon is awesome. It looks nice, and it's really comfortable, and I sleep well on it every night. But when I'm not sitting or laying on this futon, I'm not going to think about it. I'll enjoy it when I'm using it, and then forget it exists when I leave the room.

Mobile gaming necessarily has more potential than this futon. We know this we've seen the immense variety in this scene, and we've seen what gaming, as a medium, can do on other platforms. We don't yet know exactly how far we can go with gaming as a whole, but it's readily evident that most of the titles that pop up on Google Play are far more shallow, artistically, than they need to be. We can have all the fun in the world with Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, but it'd be better if they could engage both my creative and problem-solving sides.

And it would be truly wonderful if, a month after I play a mobile game I really like, I could remember that I played it. For now, I will continue to play every new release in the Google Play store, and I will continue to have a great time with many of those games. I will also continue to hope every week that one of these new games will provide a truly memorable experience.


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