My house, like many others, has been invaded by this little gem of a game that sets life against unlife. Though small and simple, the game upends stereotypes and provokes thought.
Like many good games, PvZ is a violent game. Massively violent. Incredibly destructive. Plants get eaten alive, crushed, kidnapped. The undead get frozen, burned, shot, eaten, exploded, pierced. As the Zombies die, they lose their limbs and then their heads. Yet the game seems completely appropriate for kids. Why?
Though single-player, PvZ is a social game. Yesterday, there were four boys at my house, age 4-8, all crowded around the computer, taking turns at PvZ. When the player unleashed a killer move, they all screamed and jumped for joy. "Jalapeno!!!!" Games are not like TV. If I had them watch a movie, they would slump down quietly on the couch, like, well, like zombies.
PvZ instantiates a fantasy world. Last week, after adults pried the boys away from the computer, said boys invented a RL PvZ game, where one was a Zombie, two were Pea Shooters, and one was the Jalapeno.
Like many good games, PvZ makes a gendered statement. All the Zombies are male. Most of the plants are male. Some female plants are helper-types, such as the Marigold that creates money. Others, though, are fighters, such as Cactus. Sunflower is the star of the game, taking the lead role in the music video during the credits. She is the main source of power on the side of Life.
PvZ has a dual-currency economy. One currency is Suns, produced by Sunflower (and to a lesser extent, Sunshroom). You use Suns to buy new plants. Coins also appear, dropped at first by Zombies and as level rewards, later by Marigold. Coins are used to buy power-ups between levels.
PvZ has a coherent ethos that is symbolically consistent with reality. Animated corpses are a universal evil, and living things are a universal good, in RL as in PvZ. RL agriculture is indeed a positive feedback loop, and it does indeed require sun. In RL as in PvZ, disparate weak elements can be combined into powerful teams. The game makes sense.
PvZ is a fine tool for teaching tactical thought. It has been fascinating watching my 4-year-old gradually learn to put tank-like Wallnut by the Zombie entrance points, to hold them at bay, while glass-jawed Pea Shooter plucks away from the middle. At the rear, Sunflower, important but militarily useless, pumps out her sustaining Sun power, which is then used to replace fallen Pea Shooters and Wallnuts. Mind, I didn't teach him any of this. He started with Wallnuts in the back to protect his house, too few Sunflowers, and Pea Shooters up front. The game taught him that the pieces had to be put together in a different way.
If I had to choose a poster child for interactive entertainment, PvZ would be it.