Last week the game maker Last Day of Work sent me the cutest casual game to try out: Virtual Families. This is the same company that made the game Virtual Villagers that my daughter and I got completely addicted to last year.
I don’t normally find much time for games â€“ casual or otherwise. But I happened to also see a survey recently done by GameHouse.com (a site that sells lots of casual games) that found that 59% of respondents agreed that playing casual games provides a distraction from snacking, resulting in a reduced likeliness to overindulge and that 28% reported they use game play as a means to reduce their food intake.
Well, I’ve been on a diet because summer is coming. And snacking â€“ according to MyFoodDiary.com, which I’ve been using to track calories (more on that some other day) — tells me that snacking is definitely a problem. This was all the motivation I needed to install Virtual Families. (I also installed it on my daughter’s computer because she has been a bit too engaged in her online social gaming networks and I wanted to get her hooked on something harmless.)
The game is â€“ just like Virtual Villagers was â€“ completely adorable and addictive. It’s designed to be played in small bursts of a few minutes at a time. You adopt a character, choose a spouse, encourage the two to have kids (this illicits much sniggering from my daughter though it is all very innocent), and teach them good habits.
It’s a delightful short distraction. But you can’t really sit down and play this game for hours at a time if you are older than 10. So it’s not a huge time suck.
And when it comes to snacking, it works like this: I work very hard in burst. I write something, do a phone interview, do a bit of research and thenâ€¦.slump. My brain needs a recharge. I have to do something else or I lose my focus completely. I don’t want to take an hour off. I just want a 15-minute break. Used to be, the fridge or pantry â€“ or since I moved to my office, the coffee shop downstairs â€“ called to me at those times. Since late last week, though, I’ve been checking on my Virtual Families instead. Did I get an email from my virtual kid at college? How’s the baby doing? For ten minutes, I’m omniscient in someone else’s (fictional) life. Then I’m done and back to my real work. I got my brain break without the snack.
My daughter, too, is completely hooked. She wants to discuss her family’s upsets, financial setbacks, and goals over dinner. She even sent me a text message when her twins went to college. It’s possible she might be learning some basic life lessons but at least she hasn’t looked in on her online social network in days.