Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns is a hidden object game based around the theme of Haunted Towns. The game was developed by Detention Apps, an independent game development company that creates “games for troublemakers.” Detention App’s mission statement is to “create, develop and produce games for trouble-makers; except bullies. Why?!? Because they suck! 😦 .” A very interesting mission statement to say the least, but although their theme is troublemakers in detention the games they develop consist of children’s food making games, role playing as a pet celebrity doctor, or a plethora of hidden object games. I thought it was a bit of an unusual set of games, but I digress.
Detention Apps has many hidden object games with different themes, although what really separates them is the background scene in which you are searching for the items in. The Haunted Towns version was filled with creepy, old western images of houses and buildings.
The game had 3 modes: traditional, chill, and adventure. Traditional had a time limit of four minutes, had four hints, and eight picture scenes with three item levels of picture, word, collector. Chill was similar to traditional with its only differences being unlimited time and hints. Adventure had a five minute time limit, three hints, fifteen levels with missing letters, scrambled words, and word finders in each level. The music had a whimsical creepy feeling to it almost resembling a Tim Burton film. While the game tried to sell itself as a creepy fun adventure it ended up being a bit of a letdown, but I should have expected it judging from their other games. While the app was not what I expected I did not think it should even be classified as a game. There are many definitions of what a game is, but Haunted Towns just didn’t apply.
As a Game
Jasper Juul, author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, lists six criteria that must be met in order to be a video game (Juul 36-41):
His first criteria are games are rule-based. Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns has one rule: find the list of objects before the timer runs out, at least in the case of the traditional and adventure mode.
Variable, Quantifiable Outcomes
Criteria two states the outcome of the game is variable and quantifiable. Haunted Towns has a quantifiable outcome which is to get the highest score by quickly finding objects. Haunted Towns fails at having variable outcomes. There is only one way of winning and one way of losing. The list of items given are different every time, but they do not lead to a different outcome. You win by finding the objects within the time limit and you lose by not doing that. It’s very simple.
Valorization of Outcomes
Juul’s third criteria states there must be valorization of outcomes. Haunted Towns had only had two outcomes you win or you lose. Obviously winning is better than losing, but valorization of outcomes in Haunted Towns is mostly seen through the quantifiable outcomes. The game gives you a score based on how long it takes you to find all the objects. This score can lead to a better score although the path to get to the outcome of winning or losing is the same every time you play.
The fourth criteria is that players must exert effort in order to influence the outcome. I’ll give it to Haunted Towns, it was difficult to find some of the objects since it would not allow you to zoom in. No matter how hard I tried to zoom in it would not work. The only time it zoomed is when I would use a hint, but then it wouldn’t zoom into the correct area. In adventure mode, the game was especially difficult because the list of objects on the bottom of the screen were missing letters or were scrambled words in order to confuse you. Players do need to exert effort into deciphering the list and looking for objects.
Player Attachment to Outcome
Juul’s fifth criteria deals with player attachment to the outcome. I was attached to the outcome. I cared about winning the level and even tried to challenge myself even more by trying to beat a certain time or trying not to use any of my hints. It was easy to get attached to the game and the whimsical music.
The final criteria is negotiable consequences. In Haunted Towns consequences are slightly negotiable. No players can be harmed while playing the game. The only consequence of the game is you lose when you run out of time. There are no penalties to the game even if you click around a lot. The lack of consequences in the game makes it difficult to define whether the game has negotiable consequences. I say that Haunted Towns does not meet the criteria of negotiable consequences because there are no consequences.
Looking at all the criteria, Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns is not a video game. It lacks negotiable consequences and variable outcomes. For the rest of the criteria it meets it at a very basic level, which is to say it’s close to being classified as a game but it just didn’t make the cut. Instead Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns is just another iphone app. Any players interested in casual hidden object games will enjoy this app.
“Works of art, from this point of view, are not the products of individual makers, “artists” who possess a rare and special gift. They are, rather, joint products of all the people who cooperate via an art world’s characteristic conventions to bring works like that into existence.”
As Howard Becker states above, art is created by a group of people known as an art world (Becker 35). The developer Detention Apps created Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns as a group. Through this joint effort they created their interaction art. The meaning of the art depends on the player/participant/viewer. Roland Barthes describes this process in, “The Death of the Author,” where he states that the author must be absent from his work in order for the reader to apply meaning and understand it with their own terms (Barthes 5). Hidden Objects: Haunted Towns is art because it was produced through cooperation. It also allows the viewer to understand the app in their own terms. In a sense, the ambiguity of the app allows the viewer to question it. The images are left unexplained and the lists don’t quiet have a meaning to them. The viewer can then question this art piece. Why were these images chosen? What do they signify? How do the lists of hidden objects fit into this scene? This app can be art, but it’s not necessarily good art. While the viewer is allowed to question and attempt to understand, they are left with more questions than answers. The ambiguity of it all does not provide any satisfaction or any real answers. This maybe the angle the app was meant to go in. Maybe it’s not supposed to be understood, maybe its sole purpose is to leave you questioning. The developer does state their apps are for troublemakers. This might be the kind of trouble they mean. It is for each player to decide. That said the images in Hidden Objects: Haunted Town are a series of complex and interesting works of art.
Roland Barthes. (1977 ). “The Death of the Author.” In Image, Music, Text. New York:Hill and Wang.
Howard Becker. (1982). “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” in Art Worlds. Berkeley:University of California Press: pp. 1-39.
Jesper Juul. (2005). “Video Games and the Classic Game Model” in Half-Real: Video Gamesbetween Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press: pp. 23-54.