In this book, we explore the pleasure of playing less through a collective experience of playing the Kittens Game – a self-described “Dark Souls of incremental gaming”. This game is deceptively simple at first, but reveals impressive depths, including finely tuned reward curves, bottlenecks, plateaus, and economic models.
Despite relying heavily on a narrow vocabulary of core interactions – primarily clicking and waiting – these type of games capture players’ attention across months or even years of play (and idle) time. We draw on techniques of close reading and hermeneutics to ground our analysis and supplement our individual reflections with an ongoing dialogue among the contributors, resulting in a collective reading that brings multiple points of view to bear.
In becoming well played at Kittens, we have found that it offers a variety of tensions and trade-offs that engage players in long-term planning. We argue that one of the central poetics of incremental games involves incentivizing players to play less and plan more as they progress through each game’s growth curve. In addition to our collective analysis, readings from individual authors are presented, which express each author’s individual reflection. Based on our close reading, we develop a model of Kittens as a non-linear sequence of gameplay phases. Gameplay phases exist within the context of metaphases, which shape the dynamics of play across multiple playthroughs. Each phase and metaphase represents a change in available game mechanics, with a concomitant change in planning activity.
The book starts with an introduction to incremental games, followed by a brief discussion of their design and history. We then describe our method of closely reading Kittens and provide a description of a selection of Kittens play phases, and situate these within the larger scope of metaphases. We close with a discussion of how gameplay organizes and reorganizes players’ time.