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2048: Deceptively Simple

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Written by Hope Sisley

Posted on 06 April 2014

og_image2The new Flash game "2048" (available at http://gabrielecirulli.github.io/2048/) is free to play and fast to load. The game is also available as a phone app, which is also free (http://git.io/2048), and is based on two non-free phone apps called "1024" and "Threes." But be forewarned: this is the Pringles of computer games. In other words, once you pop, you cannot stop.

The author was introduced to this game, offhand, by a friend. Within seconds of clicking the link, all hope was lost, and from that point onward, every moment of "I need something to do with my hands" was taken up by playing it.

The premise is simple. A four-by-four grid contains numbered tiles, starting with two, either two 2s or a 2 and a 4. By using the arrows keys, the player tips the board left, right, up, or down, and all tiles slide to that side. Any two tiles with the same number will combine into a single number that is the sum of the two. In this way, using powers of two, the player must get up to the 2048 tile in order to win (ie. two to the eleventh power). Things are complicated by the fact that every move causes a new tile - either a 2 or a 4 - to appear in a random free space on the grid. When the grid fills up and no tile combinations are possible, the game is over. After winning, the player may continue to play until no moves are possible.

At first blush, winning seems like it should be simple. Not so. The author only just now won, for the first time, after playing the game for over three weeks. The player must think spatially as well as mathematically in order to succeed, and one wrong move can kill a good game. It helps to use the up key only when on the verge of victory, or when no other moves are possible, as this allows high-number tiles to collect at the bottom, without 2s appearing in their midst and screwing everything up.

This game is stupidly addictive. It is also an inveterate tease, because that precious 2048 requires twice as many moves as the 1024 tile, yet the 1024 tile - which is considerably easier to get - makes the player feel like victory is almost within their grasp. The good news is that the more a person plays, the better they will get, and while there is an element of chance to the game, skill is more important. Playing also feels like slightly less of a waste of time than many other simple Flash games since it involves math and spatial intelligence. If someone asks, the player can always say the game is helping them brush up on their math skills. And, of course, the game is winnable, even if that victory feels a bit anticlimactic after the amount of work required to obtain it.

Because this is the internet, it is inevitable that a popular game and a popular meme must intersect. Thus: "Doge 2048" (available at http://doge2048.com/), a free customization of "2048" in which the number tiles have been replaced with tiles bearing animated gifs of the Shiba Inu dog whose face has overtaken the Web, known simply as doge. This version is harder to play, since it is much more difficult to keep the sequence of doge tiles straight than it is to do simple addition. On the other hand, it is far more enjoyable to look at. Every time a pair of tiles are matched, an encouraging message flashes on screen: "great jorb," "much winning," "such score," and so on. Some of the tiles are terribly charming (at least, for fans of the meme) and will make the player reluctant to match them away. (A useful guide as to which doge corresponds to which number is available at http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/160556/which-doge-represents-what-number for those who do not wish to spoil the suspense as to what the next doge in the sequence will be.)
The long and the short of it is, both versions of this game are a highly addictive - possibly dangerously addictive - means of wasting time, or of occupying one's hands while talking on the phone, sitting in on a meeting, waiting for a bus, and so on. Just make sure not to start playing right before a deadline. Case in point? This article was turned in three weeks late, mainly thanks to its subject matter.
Colorado School of Mines

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