Abyssrium is a tap-tap aquarium game that appeared in the ‘recommendations’ section of my Google Play store. It looked enticing enough, with deep blue-purple-ish waters teeming with brightly colored fish. Apparently Google is aware of my undying love for marine biology, and who am I to deny them?
The game is akin to other tap titles like Virtual Beggar. You tap the screen to get currency, and with said currency you’re able to do three things: upgrade your ‘lonely’ coralite, which increases the amount of currency per tap; upgrade your coral, which increases the amount of currency automatically gained per second; and buy fish. That’s it. That’s the game. You don’t feed anything, you don’t teach your turtles tricks, you just slowly and methodically build yourself an admittedly relaxing screen saver.
I tried explaining this to my girlfriend while watching an episode of HBO’s The Night Of.
“I don’t get it,” she said rather flatly.
“Well, there’s nothing more to get really,” I replied, “You just tap until you have enough to buy more fish.”
“Can I buy a fish?” She asked so innocently it caused me physical pain.
I handed her my phone. She picked a little orange clown fish, who, in a swirl of ocean magic, appeared inside the aquarium and began to weave in and out of the colorful coral.
“Oooooh,” she squealed. Her fingers, almost involuntarily, began tapping the screen at a feverish pace. She was hooked. In my entire life, I’ve never seen a game click for someone so immediately and so purely. And thus it began.
“Would it be so bad if I admitted that I had spent five dollars on the game?”
Over the course of the next few days, pictures began to show up in my inbox of tiny, adorable fish swimming amongst the lonely coralite. She had downloaded the game on her iPad and was already close to surpassing my own progress. As a gamer, I’m constantly trying to find common games my girlfriend and I can share together, for I want her to appreciate them as I do. And her dedication to Abyssrium made me happy. But, being the petty crab I am, I was also the tiniest bit jealous of her flourishing coralite. While she was content to earn each and every reward, I wanted that sunken pirate ship that grants you double XP, and I was willing to pay $4.99 for it.
Abyssrium became somewhat of a staple in our conversations.
“Okay, I’m going to tap for a bit and go to bed. Goodnight.” I would then receive a picture of a narwhal, floating gracefully through the water well after midnight.
“How did you get that?!” I demanded.
“Tap 10,000 times in the upper left corner. It’s a secret friend.”
I had created a monster.
“Hey, if you submit a photo, you can win 10,000 gems!” She texted me excitedly one afternoon.
“Okay, I’ll submit one, and if I win I’ll see if they can split the gems between our accounts (impossible).”
She melted. “I love you.” It was as if I’d promised her the world, and in a way, I had.
As the weeks passed, it was not uncommon that we’d be at her apartment, TV on in the background, with both our heads buried in our little aquariums, tapping endlessly in an effort to get that next piece of coral, that next little friend.
“I’ve never seen a game click for someone so immediately and so purely.”
Our aquariums looked the same for the most part, save for the couple items that I had purchased guiltily in her absence.
“How’d you get that clam??” A hint of envy in her inquiry.
“I bought it with gems,” I replied, not making eye contact. It wasn’t a lie per say, I just failed to divulge that those gems had been purchased with real world currency. But why was I lying?? Would it be so bad if I admitted that I had spent five dollars on the game? Yes, I decided it would. Ugh, humans are weird.
One night, while laying in bed, I reached for her iPad as she drifted off to sleep.
“Don’t play Abyssrium,” she muttered sleepily.
“Because that’s MY game.”
“But don’t you want me to tap for you?” I lightly suggested.
“No, sometimes you just need to let your coral grow.”
There was something about the way she said it that was beautiful. I smiled, proud of her for unapologetically owning an obsession with something so simple and mindless. It helped me to see that while we are different in a lot of ways… in a lot of ways, we are the same.