I started playing Pet Rescue Saga because close friends play it.
I cannot play it anymore.
Pet Rescue Saga, for the uninitiated, is one of those addicting games built into Facebook.
There are stacked boxes. Intermingled with these boxes are pets. If you click on a box and there are other boxes that are the same color, the boxes disappear.
As the boxes disappear, the pets move lower down on the screen. When they get to the bottom, they walk off the screen. You have rescued them.
Each level requires the rescue of a set number of pets. Rescue them, and you move on to the next level.
As the game progresses, things get more difficult. Some of the blocks in later levels, for example, are enclosed in chicken wire, and you need to break other boxes around them just to break through the chicken wire. It doesn't matter if those boxes around the chicken wire are the same color as the chicken wire box; you must first break through the chicken wire, and then, in a separate move, you must break the box.
Then the pets start to appear on the screen enclosed in cages. You have to get them out of the cages before they can walk off the screen, even if they make it to the bottom.
More things get in your way.
Cages start to require more steps before they open. Some of the boxes are chained shut, and you need a key to unlock them. Then it becomes necessary to solve certain levels in a limited number of moves.
Meanwhile, a number of tools appear to help you. You can break single blocks with hammers. Rockets allow you to clear an entire row (and magically leave the animals unscathed).
And sooner, rather than later, you start running out of tools.
We now come to the first of the two reasons why I simply cannot play this game anymore. Actually, the first reason leads directly to the second one.
The first reason is that if you run out of these tools, you can always buy more of them.
Yep, this is one of those games in which you can buy virtual gold bars (with real money) so as to buy these virtual tools.
And these gold bars aren’t cheap. It is possible, in one clip, to spend close to forty dollars on these gold bars, because the game allows you to buy them in bulk so as to get a discount.
On something that doesn’t really exist.
It soon becomes clear, as the game progresses, that there comes a point where it is all but impossible to advance to the next level without either spending hundreds of hours on a level, or by purchasing gold bars.
Oh, yes, if you have friends who play, they will occasionally give you things like a few nonexistent coins to buy tools that only exist in the world of Pet Rescue Saga. These coins, however, don’t buy the really cool tools. Yes, a few virtual coins allow you to knock a block here and there out of the way, but for the really powerful stuff, you need those gold bars.
So the key to advancing in the game is to either devote hundreds of hours to it, or to spend a great deal of real money on those nonexistent gold bars.
And now that I’ve played this game, I have stared, face to face, at a horrifying truth:
I completely see why kids have emptied the bank accounts of their parents to buy these items.
Years ago, someone told me the story of a child who played a Smurf game on their parent’s iPad. It was possible, without parent approval, for this child to buy nonexistent Smurf Berries and just charge them to their parent's credit card.
The child proceeded to buy them, again and again, by the virtual bushel. There was, in fact, a lawsuit over this, and you can read about it by clicking here.
This once all seemed silly.
Now, having played Pet Rescue Saga, I understand.
I really and truly understand.
Because we now come to the second reason that I must walk away from Pet Rescue Saga:
The pets are adorable.
I mean, oh my goodness.
Whoever thought of this game must have gotten hold of some sort of cartooning algorithm that allowed them to design the most heart melting virtual pets in the history of video games. All of the visceral heart tugging things are here: the big heads, the huge eyes, the tiny paws, the round bodies. It’s impossible to look at these nonexistent creatures and not be afflicted with the warm fuzzies.
Consequently, when you don’t rescue them, your punishment is to look at a screen that informs you of your failure. On the screen are a panda and a dog wearing a hat, and the looks on their faces rip your heart out.
It instills you with a feeling of utter sorrow.
Because remember, you didn’t just fail to advance to the next level of this game; you failed to rescue pets. If this game were simply called Pet Fun, or Pet Blocks, or Get the Pets to the Bottom of the Screen, But Don’t Worry, Because We All Know it’s a Game, and the Same Pets Will Just Saunter Up to the Top of the Screen Again, it wouldn’t be a problem.
But no. It’s called Pet Rescue Saga.
And for me, from a very early age, the word “rescue,” when paired with the word “pet,” always meant “save animal from some sort of horrible death.”
Playing this game, I am reminded of the time my mother, a first generation American raised in a German household, told me it was going to be necessary to put a beloved pet down. I was eight. And because of my mom’s Teutonic upbringing, her word choice was a bit more severe than “put down.”
“Derek,” she said, “I think it’s necessary to have Queenie destroyed.”
When I think of how I wailed at that news—and that choice of words—I think of Pet Rescue Saga.
After all, those looks the pets give you are more than just looks of disappointment. They are looks of condemnation from animals who’ve now lost members of their family.
And it’s all your fault.
As if to make the game even more excruciating, it includes an adorable soundtrack that manages to be charming without being cloying.
Fortunately, however, the sounds of the game are limited to this soundtrack, the sound of the blocks breaking, and the occasional whoosh of a rocket or pop of a colored ballon.
The balloons, by the way, eliminate all blocks of a certain color.
To get more of these, you need more gold bars.
I think about what would happen if this game included the voices of children for those pets, all of them saying “save me, save me.” I imagine how these children would tell me that all I have to do is just spend a few dollars on some bars so that I can buy the rocket launchers and balloon poppers and padlock keys that will free these small, adorable, utterly irresistible members of their family.
And if I don’t, I could hear their voices saying, what does this say about me as a human being? What does it say that I’m unwilling to unite these children with their brothers and sisters? What, at long last, does it mean when I say “look, I’d love to save your life, but I really want to take my girlfriend out to dinner?”
It means, ultimately, that I’m a heartless human being, utterly bereft of empathy.
So when I think of those pets, I look at my wristwatch. How many pet lives could I save by selling it? How many pet lives could I save by selling the furniture in my apartment? By moving to a less expensive neighborhood?
So many lives, all of them adorable, all of them…well, non existent, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way.
Which is why I must do the only thing I can do to avoid sinking into a pit of desolation. I must not bring these animals into being.
I must walk away from Pet Rescue.