A shell game of pure play (Curiosity – what’s inside the cube)


I first played Curiosity on Black Friday of last year. It was 3 am and I was sitting in my friend’s car waiting for a local Target to open. I’d also been up for over 24 hours and was five hours into my yearly ritual of tagging along with my friends while they hunted for the best deals and generally watching other people buy things.

We were sitting there talking about the games we’d been playing when my friend causally mentioned he had tried out the latest game from Peter Molyneux. “It’s called Curiosity, ” he said. “I’m not sure what the point of it is. You mostly just tap the screen to get coins.”

The name Peter Molyneux was enough to get me to queue up the download of the game as we continued our discussion other games. I watched the download bar slowly fill as we continued to wait and, as we got in line to enter the store, I was finally able to play.

I found myself nearly walking into displays and store signs as I followed my friends around with my head bowed as I tapped the blocks to clear the screen. Then, I learned I could zoom out slightly, keep tapping, and only occasionally need to the swipe the screen. As long as I acted fast enough, I could raise up my count to even higher numbers. I hit 25,734 within a few minutes. Then the game crashed.

I’d had games on my iPhone do that before. It was rare, sure, but it happened. I started up the game again, began tapping, and was able to surpass my previous number. I was now at 38,213. The game crashed again. I swore, started it up again and found that I had lost all my coins. Those hundreds of thousands of coins I had accumulated over the last hour of playing were gone. I’d had enough.


A month went by before I tried it again. Because I had placed the app with a collection of Utilities like Compass, Stocks, and Clock, it took me that long to remember I even had it. And, just like the two times before when I played, I would get a good run going and the game would crash. This kept repeating until I realized something about Curiosity: I wasn’t intrigued by the puzzle at all, I was hooked on the mechanic.

This was direct feedback. I tapped on a block. It disappeared. I tapped another. That one disappeared. For every block gone, I got a single coin. If I was able to get a string of block disappearing, it raised my counter and started a multiplier. For as long as I kept tapping, I would get more coins. If I visited the in-game shop, I could buy tools that would increase the number of blocks cleared at once.

As I caught up on some news that night, I started tapping the screen again. Slowly, I got into a rhythim. I would tap across the iPhone in a vertical pattern, fill the screen with holes, and then swipe to move to the right. My counter would rise and my coins would increase again. I kept going.

Then the iPhone crashed.

Every time I got anywhere in this game, I decided, circumstances would conspire to prevent me from finding out what was actually in the damn box. No matter how much time I invested in tapping the blocks, clearing the screen, and moving on to more, I would get stopped. Each time, the goal was moved. I might see a way to get better, but it would inevitably prevent me from learning the mystery, or even seeing the next layer.



Molyneux has said the idea for the game came from J.J. Abrams and a TED talk he gave a few years ago. It centers around the mysteries in life and how Abrams, even now, has a box with a question mark on it from his youth. He doesn’t want to ever open it because, in that moment, it would stop being a mystery. While unopened, it remains in potentia. “It could be anything,” Abrams says.

That’s what Curiosity promises. At the center, in the very moment that one person on one device sees what it there, they will see the mystery. For all the other players, well, good job. It’s a secret to nearly everyone. For all the users and all the millions of blocks cleared, the game is all they will see. Rows of blocks waiting for them.

Even as 22Cans adds in-game purchases like the ability to draw as you clear and, for some reason, badgers that bounce around, it’s still about removing blocks. It’s about making a way for a single person to look inside. Even after months of work by possibly hundreds of thousands of people, it’s still about one chance.

It’s a gamble. I knew it then and I know it now. Even as I spent this afternoon getting up to my highest number of over 288,000+ blocks cleared in one single go, an accomplishment that take a good bit of time and some swore fingers to finish, I know I probably won’t solve the mystery. It won’t be me.

I’ve helped in some way. That’s what I tell myself. I did my part to take down a wall and removed all the blocks in the path of another person. They’ll see what is inside. Maybe they will tell others, maybe they won’t. I don’t think I would tell if it was me. No, I’d just keep the mystery to myself.

Whatever it is, it’s never going to be worth the headache it caused for others anyway. The center won’t be life changing. The process, the hours upon days of tapping screens and collecting coins, with have had an effect. Time was spent toward a goal. People, separated by distance and time, worked together. The actual mystery doesn’t really matter now. It’s no longer curiosity anyway, but merely capitalism captured as a chance at a prize.