You Must Build a Boat is fun, but fun in the way procrasturbating is fun; there are other things you could be doing — ought to be doing — but don’t because you must build a boat.
While an iOS review isn’t the place to go into my sexual consciousness (deviance?) and self-hating guilt, it is the place to argue what you’re really getting out of You Must Build a Boat (hereafter referred to as YMBAB). Because the answer is nothing, you are getting nothing but some moderate escapism.
To a degree, YMBAB ought to be praised for its meta-narrative: you are trying to escape. YMBAB is a game that’s a sequel to 1000-et al where your goal was to escape a prison, but now your goal is to build a boat to escape the authorities. You’re almost guaranteed of a third installment where you’ll have to escape a cannibalistic island or a mutinous crew or another prison (see Prison Break Seasons 1-3). The game, like so many other tap-happy apps in itunes wants you in a veritable Samsara cycle.
- That school report you have due? Ah, for now you must build a boat.
- That spending report for your boss? Not as pressing as the order to build a boat.
- Your magnum opus that will make the world a better place however many people it touches? It’s daunting, and right now I want something light to get me in the mood, I’ll build a boat.
And YMBAB makes no attempt to mask this routine. The deeper you get into the game, the more recruits you get… and eventually they stop dishing out upgrades, shop bonuses, or items. Eventually, they face you (the player) and say “…” and walk away — nothing more than a freeloader on your boat. Others, say “Doesn’t my garden look neat?” but there’s nothing to do with said garden — nor is it a neat-looking garden. The developers have less ideas than you do… but by this point you’re in the cycle, unable to escape.
The uninspired pixel art is the same no matter where you go, but a different color palette is swiped onto the background and you’re told “it’s a new area!” You recruit monsters that allegedly increase your stats, and you “level up,” and can buy upgrades… but none of it changes how the game is played. It’s all to keep you playing.
Even when you unlock “treasure,” the game makes you open the crate. You can’t not open the crate — literally. You can’t skip the sequence of opening the crate to get back to the game. The game says, “Open me, it’s mandatory, if you want to continue playing.” It makes you feel involved, like progress is happening… like you don’t want to escape.
And why would you? It’s not as though you can be killed? It’s not as though the authorities will catch you. There is nothing dire about your situation, you are not timed. If anything, the game asks that you take MORE time on each level as you have the option for how many “quests” you want to complete: 1 or 2 (later 3). You will always complete them both in one round since they don’t require you to think, but will happen naturally, so why would you select 1 over 2? Because if you only take on 1, then you have more opportunities for treasure and money… to do what? Buy upgrades… to what end? Exactly.
Perhaps the worst part about YMBAB is that it boasts “strategy” and “critical thinking” instead of what it is: something to pass the time pooping; something to do while you wait; something to keep you from thinking; something to keep you from doing.
“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and playing You Must Build a Boat. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
–David Foster Wallace
It doesn’t need to be voting, it can be anything, but that’s the point. We’re so caught up in routines that when the opportunity comes for something different, we get scared. We don’t want to face something new because we’re “comfortable,” when has being comfortable ever led to something good? When has making someone feel bad led to something good? Are we asking these questions and are we genuinely content with the monotony or do we want change? Are we comfortable talking to the cashier at Gap like they’re a robot to serve a function? Or do we know they’re a real person working a tedious job with a lot to offer.
Well, I would say something, but… I must build a boat.
Do yourself a favor, don’t build a fucking boat.
For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive