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Pointless but beautiful – and good for going to sleep to: Monument Valley reviewed

27 June 2020

9:00 AM

27 June 2020

9:00 AM

Scrabble GO; Monument Valley

Available from Google Play and other app stores

I was going to write about Monument Valley, and I suppose I will eventually, but first I have to write about this total catastrophe that has overwhelmed my life. Online Scrabble has gone! This was the proper Mattel trademark version that I’ve been playing for years with friends and it has suddenly been replaced by some hideous all-singing all-dancing version called Scrabble GO which looks like Candy Crush and — worse — is infested with ads. Not quick flash ads either but interminable videos about, say, a new type of squeegee. Everyone tells me I will get used to it eventually but I’m not sure I want to. Did you ever, as a child, lose your favourite old sucking blanket when some hygiene Nazi put it in the washing machine and it came out in shreds? And you cried and howled for two days solid, and everyone kept bringing you new blankets which they said were the same, but you always knew were imposters?

Thus with Scrabble GO. Old Scrabble was never a thing of beauty but it didn’t need to be because it was clear — just the basic green board with double word squares marked in orange and triples in red. It had a tile rack below and a score keeper above and it kept permanent records of your highest ever word score and your highest game score. I can’t remember my highest game score but it was in the 500s: I do remember my highest word score was 212 for quotient, across two triple word squares with a 50-point bingo for using all my letters. I was very proud of that. I remember once interviewing Boy George and him saying he played Scrabble so I asked, ‘What’s your highest score?’ and he said, ‘105’. And I said, ‘Oh what word was that?’ and he laughed and said, ‘Not a word, silly — a game,’ and I had to stop myself snorting.

I had five online Scrabble opponents I played with almost every day, and if one of them disappeared for a while we’d all start worrying. One of them, Sue, lived in New Zealand, which gave her an unfair advantage because the official scrabble word list includes an extraordinarily high number of New Zealand words — kiwi, iwi, kea, toitoi, kakapo plus an arsenal of Maori hunting sticks. (It is also strongly weighted towards Scottish dialect words because the first Scrabble Word List was based on Chambers Dictionary, printed in Edinburgh.) We all got in a flap last year when Scrabble changed the official word list to include some trendy new words like antifa and agender, incel and burqini, but actually these didn’t matter so much as the advent of new two-letter words like ze and ew, which made a serious difference to strategy. We survived that trauma, but I don’t think any of us will survive Scrabble Go. I have lost my sucking blanket and I shall mourn it for ever.

I tried to console myself with Monument Valley, which someone said I would like because it was ‘artistic’. Hm. Never was a game more inappropriately titled — I expected to find cowboys and Indians chasing each other through the tawny sandstone buttes of the Colorado Plateau. But no, it’s a very beautiful, meditative game in which a girl called Princess Ida wanders through a series of turreted pavilions which change and rotate like Escher staircases. Occasionally she runs into fierce crows that squawk at her and once in a while she encounters a transparent green magician who makes gnomic pronouncements, such as ‘Long ages lie heavy on old bones in these buried halls. Sacred geometry was our pride, our downfall. But for ever will our monuments stand in this valley.’ (Incidentally, my daughter told me that games with ‘valley’ in the title are usually designed for girls, and tend to be pretentious.)

My middle grandson Rocco, aged nine, was supposed to be guiding me through Monument Valley, but he complained that it was too slow and anyway, he said, he had to do schoolwork. He clearly had no sense of priorities. Eventually, when I’d been stuck on level three for four days with another seven levels to go, my daughter said: ‘Instead of pestering Rocco, why don’t you just look up the walkthrough guide on YouTube?’ What? Apparently all these games have walkthrough guides on YouTube and sure enough, there it was, all ten levels. It makes it all seem a bit pointless. But then I suppose gaming is a bit pointless. Actually I liked Monument Valley because I found it very beautiful and good for going to sleep to, but I am assured by the grandchildren that it is rubbish. And of course it is not, and never could be, a substitute for online Scrabble.

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