A mango floats inches in front of my face, swirling around and around in a stark, noiseless, white void. I pick up a knife and hold it to the spinning fruit, watching its skin curl up, spooling behind my knife in the wake of my world-class peeling capabilities. I watch a progress bar fill up—from “good” to “great,” finally arriving at “amazing!”—as I strip the stone fruit of its last remaining bits of skin. A fact about mangoes pops up on screen: “More fresh mango are eaten every day than any other fruit in the world.” Did you know? My only response to this are two options: “Cool!” or a big round button that says “NO ADS”. I click Cool!, and move on to the next fruit, but not before watching a 30 second ad depicting two men who are competing to solve a puzzle using some sort of touch screen. “Can you make a strawberry?” the ad asks of me. No, I cannot. That ability is reserved for gods, but I sure can peel it.
“I Peel Good” is a game on the Apple App Store in which you peel fruit. There is no way to lose, and only one way to advance: by peeling fruit. At first glance, it’s oddly satisfying. Perfectly peeling something and seeing the long, winding, skin build up perfectly behind your knife is satisfying. It’s akin to some sort of interactive ASMR, or popping a pimple. It’s an interactive version of white noise. The fruit spins, the peel strips the fruit frictionlessly, until all of the skin is gone. But before you peel that next fruit, the developer has something for you: a thirty-second long ad to sit through. Did you know that the air inside of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the air outside of it?
There are hundreds if not thousands of games exactly like this on the App Store, all of which share an identical structure—some vaguely interactive task (often a form of labor, like peeling, cutting, dentistry) for the player to perform, and then an ad for you to sit through before continuing. If you look at that structure, it’s pretty clear to see what’s happening here. The developers are funneling the players through the game by making it as easy to progress as possible because as the player progresses, they are consuming more ads, and making the developer more money. It’s a late capitalist’s dream: a child on a phone performing virtual labor for no pay, while simultaneously generating endless amounts of money for the developer. Did you know, according to Google, the company HeroCraft Ltd. made “$58,900 USD in the four months that followed” them adding Google’s in-game advertising service to their most popular app?
This is the value that most business people see in games—not as a unique and special medium of interactivity, but as a sleight of hand that magically makes somebody richer with no effort involved whatsoever. This ideology, that the player is not a participant with the game, but a resource to be exploited, is in step with the games industry in a much broader sense, too. As AAA game development balloons to unsustainable sizes, developers have taken to similar money-making practices. Barraging the player with micro-transactions and stretching out the life of games is their way of attempting to make up for development costs in the tens of millions of dollars. Games like “I Peel Good” make it clear that it’s not just a problem within the AAA space; this strategy of squeezing the player for all their worth has become incredibly prolific throughout mobile gaming. It’s a glimpse into a scary future where even our play is capable of being monetized, whether we are aware of it or not. Keep peeling that mango if it brings you peace; just know that once the peeling stops, you’re the one getting squeezed for the juice.
The new game from House House lets you play out the ultimate power fantasy: bullying people as a goose.
Originally Appeared on GQ