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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Column: Drawsome

It was high noon on Picnic Day and there we were: strewn about the living room, escaping the sweltering heat outside. Those who weren’t watching the Sharks lose to St. Louis were fully invested in their phones, smirking as they dragged their fingertips across the screen, giggling at horrendous drawings. I was among them and I have no shame. We were playing Draw Something and we were loving it.

The addictive mobile Pictionary-esque game has exploded since its debut a couple months ago — thanks to its appeal to users of all ages and artistic abilities. Draw Something is certainly a bright spot in a sea of copycat apps and naysayers. Its refreshing uniqueness is a reminder that not all hope is lost in a sector that seems to have hit a dead end.

There are a handful of tech reporters spreading apocalyptic visions of a doomed industry whose glory days, they claim, are far behind it. Their writings contend that innovation on the web and in mobile have reached its peak and the only direction these technologies can go from here is down.

It’s a jaded perspective — one that’s informed by bored, weary-eyed journalists, exhausted and uninspired by the interminable coverage of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — but not necessarily untrue.

I had to stop myself from inappropriately screaming “Yes. YES. YES!” in public while reading Alexis Madrigal’s piece in The Atlantic, “The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future.” My eyes typically roll out onto the floor at articles like these — written by people disappointed that the new millenium came up short of the impossible plans “The Jetsons” drew out for us. But Madrigal was on the money. He was so right about the lack of innovation in energy, healthcare and education — areas that actually need it! — due in large part to the herd mentality among startups to reproduce and fixate on a popular idea (like, cough, social networking) until it’s dead.

Madrigal’s look at the state of technology today is a sobering one. He echoes again and again that we’re doing the same things we did five or 10 years ago — staring at web pages, writing documents and uploading photos — just at higher resolutions.

The essay is basically a 2,000-word plea to end the tech giants’ stronghold and for SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE to do SOMETHING new. His claim is a blanket statement to which there are exceptions, obviously. But we’re talking about trends here and the truth of the matter is: there are too few technologies on the web or in mobile that grab us by the shoulders and shake us with inspiration to create or do new things.

Which brings me back to that delicious little game Draw Something. The mobile app was an unlikely success for OMGPOP, a multiplayer gaming site that basically rips off popular games like Connect Four and Mario Kart. The online versions of these games, however, are driven by coin incentives, or currency with which users can buy “upgrades” like protractors and fancy pens for Draw My Thing, the original version of the popular mobile game. It’s this generation’s Neopets, if you know what I mean.

Draw Something for iOS and Android is a watered-down edition of Draw My Thing, wherein users illustrate words for fellow gamers and earn coins based on the difficulty of those words. You have an incentive to draw clearly articulated pictures because if your partner guesses correctly, you earn more points.

How can you hate a game where everyone wins? You can’t. That’s why Draw Something has caught on with the masses. The game’s popularity is a different kind of success for mobile — one that I hope will inspire similar kinds of apps. The game forces people to create moments with their friends and families, rather than constant reflections into the past. It compels gamers to tap into their right brain and share the way they see the world with others. It’s not often that a silly game will offer such a unique perspective on someone’s way of thinking. The highly personal interaction between Draw Something users has the power to nurture more direct and deeper relationships — and I think that’s pretty drawsome.

NICOLE NGUYEN wants to draw things with you. Invite nicolemnguyen to play or send a sketch to niknguyen@ucdavis.edu.

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