It’s a real surprise. You launch the game on your Kindle — and see two funny hamsters looking back at you! (They look great on the large screen of my Kindle DX.) And then on the game’s main menu screen, the “selection indicators” are two little hamster icons! The game was released in January, and within a week became one of the top 3 best-selling items in the entire Kindle Store.
In “Hamster Habitat,” there’s a few small squares that represent hamster cages, and every time you nudge your Kindle’s five-way controller, a new tube appears on the screen. You’re trying to connect the hamster cages — and to reach all the hamster treats that are scattered across the screen — but it’s trickier than it looks! Soon you’ll run out of straight tubes (or curvy tubes), so your path has to swerve in another direction!
The puzzles all have funny names, like “Big Nose” or “Treats up Top”. And the hamsters actually move! While you’re staring at the screen, the little hamster icon (in its cage) will occasionally decide to sit up, or to lie back down. It reminds me of a famous web site called “the hamster dance.” In 1998, a Canadian woman inserted 392 tiny images of dancing hamsters onto her web page, accompanied by a speeded-up sound clip of the twangy voice of singer Roger Miller. (“Dee dee dee, doo doo, doo doo, doo…”) I once interviewed the woman who created it, who told me at one point her hamsters were receiving nearly a thousand fan letters each day!
Millions of hamsters later, that meme has now somehow resurfaced in a game for Amazon’s Kindle. It’s similar to “Blossom,” a Kindle game from Braintonik where you’re connecting lots of flowers to a central watering can. The hamsters give this new game a funny twist. Even when you select which level to play. each level is represented by a plate with some cheese on it!
This makes the 16th free game that Amazon has released, and there’s 66 different levels to choose from. At first I had trouble recognizing which of the thin lines represented the “opening” of the hamsters’ cages — it’s even thinner than the other lines — but it was easier when I moved the hamsters onto the giant screen of my Kindle DX. Despite the simple hamsters, it’s a real challenge to solve the puzzles, and at one point I realized I was just guessing. (I’d just nudge the five-way contorller to see what happened, since every time I pressed it, a new tube appeared on the screen, lengthening that hamster’s tunnel and moving it closer to the treats!)
I think games must free some extra creativity in the people who build them. What happens in the Land of Play? It’s only limit is your imagination. A friend of mine once created a game that was called “Roshambo Run” with the strangest instructions I’ve ever seen. (“You’re a minature angry nun who loves coffee. Shut up. You just are. Due to your alarmingly small size, you must go around any muffins in your way…”) If you successfully completed a level, you were even rewarded with a quote from the lead singer of Twisted Sister. (You can still see it at Archive.org. Just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/RoshamboRun )
Maybe games don’t just free up creativity in the game designers, but also in the people who play the games. After all, once you’ve navigated a game board as a minature angry nun, it’s just one small step to connecting hamster cages on your Kindle!