Warning: This opinion piece may contain a bathroom-related anecdote.
Is Peter Molyneux trolling us? There has to be more to Curiosity than just plain tapping, surely, we wondered to ourselves, dismissing the ex-Lionhead and ex-Bullfrog creative visionary's plan to create a giant cube that we all just chip away at as another whimsical flight of fancy. Of course, in doing so, we undermined the intelligence and aptitude for out-of-the-box (or cube) thinking that has made Peter Molyneux one of the pioneers of our industry.
It's easy to consider him in purely comical fashion these days, a little bit like a daft uncle or grandparent, who sometimes goes off on an incredible tangent halfway through a conversation and says utterly outrageous and farfetched things. But that's part of his enthusiasm. As a gamer I may have lost faith in the Fable franchise (although just how much I had to begin with is admittedly debatable), but I'm incredibly thankful that our industry has someone like Peter Molyneux.
Who else would have had the balls to pull off something like Curiosity. It's the perfect social experiment. Is it even a game? Do we care? To begin with, it might seem as though the answer to both of those questions is "no". Trotting along for my morning poo, armed of course with my smartphone, I proceeded to fire up Curiosity out of, well, curiosity. It's a name that's too obviously clever by far. Sitting there on what is, in all probability, the least comfy place in the building, without the heating on, pants around ankles, I actually lost track of time and was in there, in all probability, for over a quarter of an hour.
Game or not, and it's rather immaterial how you define Curiosity, there's something rather compelling about it.
There's only one mechanic in Curiosity: tapping. You tap away on the glass of your smartphone, eliminating tiny, quivering cubes to slowly clear the first layer of a truly gargantuan, bigger cube. The MotherCube, if you will. The more you tap without breaking stride, the greater the quantity of coins you'll earn with each tap. These coins can be spent on explosive items and also, if you manage to save up enough, pickaxes that will clear a greater number of cubes for a limited time. The Diamond Pickaxe, the fabled ultimate digging device, costs 3 billion coins.
But that's not really the point, chaining taps becomes a game in and of itself. You'll find yourself double tapping to speed metal to try and get the rhythm right, or using multiple fingers on one hand. And then, just as the multiplier gets into double figures, you'll nudge the Facebook sign-in button and lose the entirety of your hot streak. Curiosity then changes to rage.
The first shape you clear with your basic tools will prove to be a humbling experience. You might make a face, write your name, etch a penis, reconstruct a disgusting tableau of eroticism featuring stick people...whatever you do, you'll then zoom out to behold your handiwork, and it's then, as your toil and effort fades into nothingness, that the big picture of the MotherCube will give you a sinking feeling.
Then you'll zoom back in and find that someone has taken a liberal dab of artistic licence and trashed your masterpiece with more minicube dissolving.
It's fascinatingly addictive, though, and sometimes you'll see large-scale works of cubism realised. My favourite so far has to have been the exasperation witnessed in a simple FUCKSAKE across the bottom of one of the sides. Some have created faces, others have tried to use the opportunity to create branding logos, but thus far the latter has always been relatively shortlived.
As the second progress and turn into minutes, though, tapping behaviour changes. I've logged on to draw silly pictures; I've logged on to set myself a little coin target or see how far my stretch will go, a little like a score attack; I've fired up the completely free app just to see how the MotherCube is faring. It can be strangely compelling: you open up the app, designate a little space that you want to clear...and then you clear it. I'm a relatively chaotic person at the best of times, but I found myself becoming rather obsessive at certain points. You'll stop to ask yourself why on earth you're tapping away in seeming futility at this enormous object, and you'll angrily switch off, only to be lured back an hour or two later.
Of course, that might not be true for you, but looking around the internet a day after release, it's clear that I'm not alone.
There's also a truly social element to the experience. We can witness the effects others are producing in real time. There's a very visual sense that there are thousand of us in this together. It's easy one minute to reflect that this is really stupid, and that if this is what society has come to in the 21st century - thousands of people across the globe tapping away on touchscreen devices to shed the skins of a nondescript cube - it's a bit sad. But in a heartbeat that might change to an appreciation for the social experiment that Molyneux is trying to conduct.
Make no mistake, the titular Curiosity applies to 22Cans as much as it does to the gamers eager to find out what the "life-changing experience" at the core of the cube is. In that respect, the veteran designer is playing a game with us, and we should care. Molyneux wants to investigate things like player motivation, he's constantly striving to understand why we gamers make the decisions we do, why we play games in the manner that we do. It's to be hoped, perhaps, that at the end of all of this, 22Cans publishes some stats about the whole journey, because I reckon they'd make for some really interesting reading.
As such "the journey" may very well prove more important than the MacGuffin at the core.