Eric: I like my co-worker Jake. We're cool. I would def say we're friends. We maybe even have tight bro status. We have lots of stuff in common, but most of all we both love, love, love video games. We do have a slight disagreement about what that means though. Just ask him...
Jake: Eric's...fine. He doesn't think mobile games are real video games though, so I guess he's kinda dumb? But overall he's fine. I'm working with this super-fun new mobile game called Farm Heroes Super Saga. He's seen me playing it on my phone kind of a lot around the office. Then all of a sudden he's blowing up my chat.
Eric: It started out simply enough. I was checking to see if Jake was free to walk for coffee on a random Thursday, but things escalated pretty quickly from there.
Jake: I think it started with Eric finding a pretext to troll me about being on my phone again. Before I knew it, we were betting. That's the puzzling thing about this bet: He asked for it.
Jake: Now, I'm not sure what Eric's thinking here. First of all, I've been playing this game all week, and — how do I put this? — I'm good as hell. Second, since I'm technically working on the game, I can play it at work and claim I'm doing "research." He has to actually do other stuff, like make a post about introverted cats who are also Disney princesses that "can't even," or whatever it is we do here at BuzzFeed.
Really, the toughest choice will be deciding what to make him do when he loses. I'm torn between making him do something that will benefit me (like cleaning my apartment) or making him do something humiliating (like come to work dressed as a Cropsie). *sigh* Life is all about choices though, I guess.
Eric: Even though Jake clearly has an unfair advantage here because he's been playing this game, like, virtually nonstop since it showed up in the App Store, I'm still gonna win this bet. I've played actual puzzle games. Console puzzle games like Braid that are legitimately bonkers difficult. I am a gamer. I got this.
It's funny — you don't even have to see Jake's phone screen to know he's playing Farm Heroes. You can just tell by the rapid swiping of his thumb across the screen and the vacant intensity of his focus. He's completely zoned out in his own little slack-jawed world. I call it Jake's "game face."
Jake: I know Eric says that thing about my face when I play, but that face, that singular focus, is the exact reason I'm going to crush him. I control my farm kingdom with the power of a capricious boy king. He will know defeat at the hands of a mobile gamer, and only then will he see the truth of his errors, or whatever. Idk, I'll probably just have him answer all my work emails for a week or something. I hate work emails. I hate all emails, actually.
Eric: After a little back and forth, we landed on some ground rules. I could tell Jake wanted to be able to send friend requests for extra lives, but I put my foot down. If you ask me, most of these rules are pretty common sense.
Jake: It was kinda cute to watch Eric sweat it out writing and rewriting the rules to try to give himself an advantage. I don't have the heart to tell him it doesn't really matter what little bylaws he comes up with because I'm still going to own him.
Eric: I think it was the Roman orator Cicero who said "Salus Cropuli est Suprema Lex," which translates to "The good of the Cropsies is the highest law." That's essentially what we've got going on here.
Rancid the Raccoon: clearly a scoundrel.
Eric: So right off the bat, I will admit this game is very cute. Basically, Farm Heroes is the story of a bunch of adorbs fruits and veggies known collectively as the Cropsies who just want to hang out in the sun on their farm and grow in peace. Then there's this real shady character by the name of Rancid the Raccoon, and you can just tell by his name and his mustache he's gonna be up to no good.
Turns out, Rancid stole the Cropsies' growing formula and has been using it to cheat at all the Country Fairs to win first place in the crop-growing competitions, which, c'mon, Rancid. Keep it classy. We all want to take home that blue ribbon for "biggest banana" from the Country Fair, but cheating ruins the fun for everybody. Geez.
Jake: Yeah, we agree on this one. Rancid is a real jerk. Speaking as a guy with a mustache, I don't like the message he's sending on behalf of the mustache community.
I like it when you call me Big Droppa.
Eric: Anyhow, the game's controls are super intuitive and responsive, the flute music accompanying each level is airy and pleasant, and the little fruits and vegetables even teach you how to play in the early stages. When you match four of the same Cropsies, they join up to form a Super Cropsie. As far as I can tell, this does two things: (1) makes the Cropsies get bigger and sparkle real pretty-like and (2) applies a multiplying effect on how much that Cropsie is worth when you collect it. This is it, I think. This is the key to everything. Super Cropsies are my ticket to beating both Jake and Rancid! Pretty soon I'm zipping through levels a few at a time, three stars all around, confidence soaring. I can't wait to tell Jake that his precious little mobile game has got nothin' on me.
Jake: Eric took the trouble to send me the GIF over there to let me know he beat the first four levels almost immediately. I don't think he understands those are tutorial levels and the game gets progressively more challenging as you go along, which is surprising, since that is literally how all video games work. Smh.
Eric: Sometime on Saturday afternoon, I ran full speed into a brick wall. The cute animals and vegetables that had been so compliant, even helpful, just a few levels before, began mocking me. The looks on their gleaming little faces were still joyful and placid, but they seemed to communicate an ominous message as one. "Jake was right," they taunted. "You're on the real farm now. And on the real farm, the levels get very, very real." As the difficulty ramps up, your feeling of exhilaration at beating a level rises with it, but so does the heartbreak of coming just a few Cropsies short of completing your goal. It's definitely a boom-and-bust experience, filled with highs and lows just like any truly engaging video game should be. Still, my progress has definitely slowed.
Jake: My favorites are the levels where Rancid tries to literally throw shade by tossing garbage into your garden, but you get to throw it back at him by matching Cropsies. I mean, really, Rancid? We're throwing cans in gardens now? That's just rude, bud. I'm sorry to see you lower yourself to that.
Eric: Yeah, that is unfortunate. It didn't have to be this way, Rancid. We could have settled this using our words.
Eric: Speaking of using our words, trash talk is as central to the experience of video gaming as graphics or characters. It's primal. It goes all the way back to the caveman days of standing in the video arcade at the mall watching somebody trying to beat your high score. Trash talk drives us to push ourselves, to be better. To game better.
Jake: Yeah, Eric likes to chitchat a lot during stuff like this. I think he thinks he's getting in my head? Honestly, though, it's fine. Whatever time he spends thinking about something clever to tweet is time he's not spending actually playing the game. Plus, it's not like I won't respond. It's fun. I even started a hashtag for it. It's #preparetobecrushed. Look for it to be trending soon.
Credit where it's due though, Eric rebounded surprisingly well from his rough patch after the tutorial levels. He's plowed through some levels that I really thought would hang him up for a whole day, maybe even the whole weekend. I've still got a comfortable lead, but I can't afford to be overconfident.
Eric: I'm closing in on him, I can feel it. I'm pretty sure we're beyond the levels he's already seen before the bet. We're both being pretty reckless with our play now, spending power-ups we might otherwise save just in the hope of getting through one more level. Some levels I beat on the very last move, and it's a glorious rush. When that happened late Sunday night, I involuntarily yelled and scared my dog. He's fine; he's just pretty sure I'm insane now. My wife, too. I'm not sure I'd disagree with either of them.
Honestly, this bet is taking more of a toll on me than I was prepared for. It's not like I haven't eaten or slept or anything, but I do find myself waking up a little earlier (even on Sunday morning!) to try to sneak in a few more levels. I find myself pondering my strategy for building Super Cropsies or collecting acorns even when I'm not actually playing. I've had these types of experiences before, but only with larger, sprawling console games like RPGs. Could Jake be right? Are mobile games really real video games?
Jake: OK, so, Monday morning. There we were. I was actually a little nervous. Eric kinda went radio silent after a certain point last night. All of the trash talk stopped. He just sent a text that said "see you tomorrow." I guess that could go either way.
Ugh. I didn't even consider it before, but what if I were to lose? I didn't want to have to answer Eric's work emails. I hate work emails. Why didn't I go with wearing the Cropsie suit? That wouldn't have been so bad. I might have looked good in it...
Eric: Hit another wall last night. I spent a good bit of time staring at that "Try Again?" screen, wondering if I should break the rules and buy a power-up, just one little watering can or wicker basket to get me over the hump. What could it hurt? I didn't want to have to answer Jake's work emails. I hate work emails.
In the end, I decided that cheating to win a friendly competition would make me no better than Rancid the Raccoon cheating to win Country Fairs. And nobody wants to be Rancid the Raccoon. Seriously, that guy is just the worst.
We met up on Monday morning with nothing left to do but compare scores. There was no more strategy, no more trash talk — just a winner and a loser once and for all.
Eric: Gaaaaaaaaahhhhh! Like I said, I really had built up some momentum there going into Sunday night, but Level 31 destroyed me. I spent all my power-ups, all my lives, and all of my energy trying to crack it, but in the end, it cracked me. So, Jake, how do you want me to sign off when I'm answering all your damn emails?
Jake: OMG, what a relief! I was able to burn through a few more levels Monday morning and topped out at Level 37. I'm not sure if Eric ever actually caught up to me, but when he showed me how far he'd gotten, I admit I was surprised. It's a good thing close doesn't count in this kind of bet.
Oh, and I usually sign off my emails with "Sincerely, the Winner."
Just a quick post-script here to let you know I'm typing this at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, having gotten up early to get a jump on Jake's inbox. I hate everything about this.
This is me RN
Oh, and this is Jake's inbox. (Seriously, if you have anxiety triggered by overfull inboxes, don't look. You will regret it.)