I've always hated the notion that one can somehow triangulate a game's quality by weighing price against hours spent. It reeks of consumer tunnel-vision.
But the incredibly low prices of games in the App Store have made me rethink parts of this. Games for the iPhone range from $0.99 to $9.99 (but rarely). I spend a little more than a dollar on vending machine sodas that I usually finish in less than 10 minutes. The same amount of money on the App Store buys me hours of entertainment. Both mobile games and vending machines trade coins for timely diversions. Both have a somewhat ominous, otherworldly glow. OK, I'm going too far at this point.
In a way, then, I do feel that I'm getting a lot of "value" from the App Store when I consider that I'm getting back a lot more than I'm putting in, much more than I'm used to. But the main point is this. We talk about how fast things are moving. The condition of technology is that it exists to be improved (and in return improve us, or so the utopian outlook goes). On an editorial Web site the turnaround for publishing is generally a day, and sometimes less than that. On the App Store the gratification is instant. I read about a promising new game or discount on a site like TouchArcade, and it's in my hands before a minute has passed. The distance between production and consumption feels closer than ever to zero.
But inversely, with games like Doodle Jump and Flight Control and Bookworm, your engagement with the thing before you is dramatically protracted, like a deep sleep that hits you in an instant and lasts just a little too long. It takes no time and then it takes all your time.
These games are great for waiting rooms and the New York City subways. They make time into nothing. We are at the point where we pay to zone out, pay to hallucinate and remove ourselves from the physical stress and bad energy of the city, or our flattened sense of life in the suburbs. With games in general, we're arguably spending money to black out our time and consciousness. It feels like waiting endlessly for a resolution, as if what we're actually looking for is completely unknowable. When you don't have knowledge you pay, instead, for the next best thing in the dime store: being able to sleep.