My shameful obsession with hidden object games on Steam

The author has chosen to remain anonymous.

I’ve got two shameful secrets which I am about to share with you. One: I wet myself deliberately at preschool so I could wear the special Transformers tracksuit they kept for just such an occasion. Two: I spend my weekends playing hidden object games. To unwind, I like nothing better than cracking open the Steam new releases list, clicking the hidden object tag, and downloading every single thing that pops up. Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride? Of course. House of 1,000 Doors - Family Secrets? Obviously. Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug Collector's Edition? What do you think I am, an amateur? 

If you’ve never walked the back alleys of Steam you might have missed these strange little mom-targeted games, so let me explain. They all start with a similar set-up: you’ve arrived at a location, stuff has gone Red Wedding bad (a loved one has gone missing, a giant bird has attacked, some other sort of monster is on the loose) and it’s up to you to fix things through a mix of exploration, completing simple puzzles and, inexplicably, hunting through endless hoarder house piles. Gasp as you stick the rights keys in the right holes, then marvel as you click through a list of items that includes scissors, grapes, necklaces and envelopes. 

The perfect place to get a useful tool. Or cholera.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. I’m not just a casual player of these point and click time wasters. I’m a connoisseur. I can separate high quality from rank amateur in a matter of clicks. There are certain things I look for in a hidden object game. I want beautifully recreated dinner table scenes complete with gravy boats to sift through and puzzles requiring the use of acid, a set of sticky labels, and a drugged mouse. I want a list of objects to find that was clearly devised by a man in a work-for-hire development studio in Outer Mongolia who does not know that there’s more than one meaning for the word compass. (Flip table emoji.)

These may sound like minor details to you, but when you’re spending three hours of a Saturday hopped up on energy drinks and Pop Tarts just so you can save Chestnut Lodge Asylum this stuff matters. The asylum/hotel/haunted mansion/circus is depending on me, and I’m not going to let lazy labeling stand in my way. 

I freely admit that I’m paying my money just to look for shit. I’m basically handing over hard-earned dollars in order to play the part of a teenager’s mother. Jesus, even as I’m typing that I’m imagining what a freaking fantastic hidden object game that would make. Move the crusty sock of suspicion to find the cheap Ziploc bag of weed, solve the puzzle of the missing school report. Honestly, I sicken myself.

Just a yacht filled with dynamite, what could go wrong?

It started out the way all obsessions do, a little weekend respite from the serious business of Doom, Don’t Starve, and Witcher marathons. Put on a podcast about hideous serial killers (you don’t need the sound for any of these hidden object games, and more than that, you don’t want it) and settle in for a solid two hours of clicking around a badly rendered garbage pile, looking for brooms, gloves, and missing keys. There’s no grace, no style points, and no one is going to tune into Twitch to watch me find a screwdriver in record time. 

What you get are the sweet dopamine hits of success without the fear of failure. None of these demon hunters/journalists/haunted hoteliers are going to swipe left on me, no sir. There’s even a skip button for the puzzles or a magic glowing light in case I get stuck. I guess some people have their own glowing light in Jesus or Oprah but me, I’m on my own out there in the real world. These games make me feel smart too. Really smart.

The puzzles are never exactly challenging and you’ll often get an achievement for completing them, like patting the village idiot on the head for not falling down the well today. Considering my carefully constructed facade of insecurity masks just more insecurity, there’s a comfort to being told I’m brilliant for arranging some colored tiles in the right order.

Don't worry drowning boy, I've found a dinner fork!

The problem is, as with all things from basic human relationships to watching Naked And Afraid, my brain has found a way to make it weird. It’s got hooked on the clickable embarrassments genre, tugging at my sweatshirt sleeve every time I sit down to play something that will make my Steam account history look respectable. I’ve started wondering if I can pretend that I share my Steam profile with my mother. It’s the only way to explain the list of casual games stretching from here to the horizon. Actually, I could also blame mother for the repeated and inexplicable viewings of Cougars, Inc. starring Denise Richards. This is fine, this is all fine. 

It’s unlikely that PC Gamer will ever call for someone on the cutting edge of hidden object games—and I’m pretty sure I only got this commission out of a kind of “oh look that ugly pitbull only has three legs” pity—but if suddenly the millennials decide they’re on trend and start snapchatting the hell out of them, I’m there. Until then it’ll stay my dirty secret, along with the fact that I never gave the Transformers tracksuit back.