I did it. I unlocked all 155 characters in Crossy Road without paying a cent. Here is how I feel about it.
Crossy Road is an iOS/Android game developed by Hipster Whale released on November 20, 2014. It has been described as a combination of Frogger and Flappy Bird. Three months after its initial release, the game earned $10 million and had over 50 million downloads. The gameplay consists of tapping or swiping on the screen to navigate a chicken across an endless level of busy highways and raging rivers, all the while collecting coins to unlock new characters. The new characters are unlocked every one hundred coins at complete random. Most often, you will unlock characters that you already have, wasting thousands of coins.
Like most mobile games, Crossy Road is free-to-play. You can watch advertisements or wait six hour intervals to collect larger amounts of coins, or you can pay money to unlock the Piggy Bank character, which allows you to collect coins in groups of five instead of one at a time. Even though this game claims to be free-to-play, the real cost comes in an alternate form of currency: Time.
Normally I would avoid games of this sort like the plague, but for once I decided to do things differently. I decided that I was going to attempt to collect all 155 unlockable characters, thus “beating” the game, without paying any money at all.
And I did it. Here is my experience.
I first downloaded Crossy Road on an iPhone 4S near its’ release date. I played it for a few minutes and was impressed with the simple controls, smooth gameplay, and lack of intrusive advertisements or in-app purchases. However, it is easy to be impressed with a mobile game considering the dismal state of the mobile games industry. I became acutely aware of my vastly lowered standards and promptly deleted the game from my device.
Several months later, I re-downloaded the game to pass time while waiting in an airport. I played the game off and on for a while after, eventually coming to terms with the fact that it was a complete and utter waste of my time, and I deleted it once more.
Fast forward a little bit and I download the game a third time on my new iPhone 5S, due to boredom in an airport once again. But this time was different. I decided right then and there that I was going to complete this game. I was going to unlock all 155 characters, prove that mobile games are cancerous to society, and I was going to do all of it without paying a cent.
At first, things went quickly. Every time I reached one hundred coins, I easily conquered the random number generator gods and unlocked a new character. The more I played, the better I got. My high score continually improved and my speed at collecting coins grew faster. My skills reached such a height that unlocking the special characters, where you have to complete various “challenging missions” to unlock them, was incredibly easy.
Soon things became much more difficult. Unlocking characters became a slow and tedious process. I found myself turning on my phone, collecting the free coins reward every six hours, and then immediately shutting if off. After collecting several hundred coins, I would spend them for the chance to win new characters, but the odds were against me. More often than not, I would unlock nothing.
Sometimes I would collect several hundred coins, one at a time, whenever I had a spare moment. I got so good at the game that I hardly had to think anymore, as if I was thinking that much to begin with. Playing Crossy Road requires almost no thought or engagement, but now I had reached even lower levels of humanity. I was a machine. I could get one hundred coins in mere minutes. I could play with both my left and right hands. I could play with my thumbs, my index fingers, and my middle fingers. I could play lying down, sitting, standing. I could play in landscape or portrait mode. With light, or in the dark. Nothing affected my performance. I was unstoppable. No longer did I consider the trucks and logs obstacles. They were just polygons. In fact, they were never true obstacles to begin with.
And then, during a brief ten minute break at work, I did it. I unlocked the last character. The order you unlock the characters in Crossy Road is completely random, but I think it is no coincidence that I unlocked the Skeleton last, because that is how I feel after playing this game for so long.
Now what came of all this, you ask? Proof. Maybe this proof is not applicable to everyone, but it is proof enough for me. I spent months of my life invested in this game. I did not have fun, I did not grow in intelligence, I did not learn something new about the world. I did not gain a skill, I did not play socially with friends or family, I did not accrue any profits, and I most certainly did not gain an enriching artistic or narrative experience of any kind.
This is because Crossy Road was not designed for any of these purposes. I do not want to be cynical and say that it was made only to make money since I do not personally know the creators. That being said, from a gameplay perspective, it is obvious that this game was designed to be “addicting”. It was made to cater to that primal instinct to pursue progress, success, and fulfillment, but what Crossy Road ultimately provides is anything but that. It only gives you the illusion of progress, the illusion of success, the illusion of fulfillment.
You “progress” through an endless sea of cars and logs. You “succeed” in unlocking new characters. You gain a sense of “fulfillment” by completing mind-numbing, time consuming, idle tasks over and over again. This is not like the days of Super Mario Bros., a game where actual effort was required to overcome the expressive level design. A game made to be fun, engaging, memorable, and valuable. In short….
Crossy Road is a complete waste of time.
So why did I play it, and have I actually discovered anything that we did not already know? Well, no, but that’s just it. Why does anyone play games like this? Or rather, should we play games like this?
The reason I completed Crossy Road was to prove, at least to myself and maybe to some others, too, that games like this are truly dangerous to society. They disguise themselves as simple, mindless entertainment, but they can barely even fulfill that basic role. In reality, they are a form of idleness.
If you are playing Crossy Road, you are essentially doing nothing.
But my life has value. I do not want to waste it doing nothing. Then again, I am still alive and well. My soul is not completely gone, even after having spent countless hours doing nothing on my phone, tapping on a chicken. However, the time I wasted tapping on that chicken is something that I will never get back.
I would like people to think of this post not as a pretentious warning, but instead as a light push. I want to push people to put down their phones, stop tapping on chickens, and do something else. Almost anything would suffice. At least then you would not be doing nothing at all.
Screenshot of my “accomplishment”: