Do you have a friend or a loved one who exhibits a strange fixation on an iphone game that makes them perform mindless repetitive tasks and mutter gibberish about “building new floors”, “dream jobs”, and “stocking the bowling alley” while producing cash register sounds. Don’t worry, these people did not go nuts – they are simply addicted to “Tiny Tower” – iPhone’s version of Farmville.
Tiny Tower is an insidious game: it’s designed to make its victims perform in-game routines wired to the pleasure center of the brain while keeping them comfortably numb. There’s something meditative in these repetitive tasks, they are akin to playing with prayer beads. The concept of the game also carries the religious theme, as the player is tasked with controlling the fate of “bitizens” – little pixel people, assigning their jobs and apartments. This feeling of control over the fake little world is its own reward.
After getting tired of seeing my co-workers spending their lunches hunched over their Tiny Towers I tried to put a stop to these “lunches of the living dead”. Cracking jokes about “tiny towers” didn’t work, and neither did the appeals to reason.
The most insidious part of the game is the fact that you need to spend a lot of time waiting for the items to be restocked and the floors to be built. I thought that the developers of the game would implement some kind of an independent timer, but they were lazy and used the system time. It turned out that the best way to fight the Tiny Tower zombification is to show how to change the system time (settings -> general -> date and time -> uncheck “set automatically”) so that the money accumulation and the floor building would go fast. Once that happens the whole addictive game dynamic is broken and you can again talk to your friends and colleagues.