You've played Peggle haven't you? I mean, it's been around, in one form or another, for almost ten years. A modern reworking of bagatelle, via pinball, it's an absurdly simple concept, and - like all the best games - chronically addictive. It's a pure streamlining of 'one more go' play.
The latest in the series - Peggle Blast - was released at the end of last year, taking a controversial sideways step into a freemium model.
The basic game was available gratis - limiting your power-ups, lives, and levels available at any one time - but more of everything was yours for the taking if only you'd plug it to your awful Facebook friends, or spend actual money in-game, or watch an advert for some other game.
It's a practice that has become increasingly reviled, and one that I abhor - generally, I tend to avoid Freemium games as if they're grubby tarps. Unfortunately, in this instance, I'd been wanting a new Peggle game for years, and I caved in on myself like a Floridian sinkhole.
Just as a junkie regrets his first ever hit, I look back now and wish I'd been stronger.
I've put more hours into Peggle Blast this year than any other game. It is to my profound shame that I've also spent more money on it than full-price console titles.
I've played it on trains, while waiting to go into meetings, in bed, during commercial breaks, and in lieu of feeding my brain with more intellectually stimulating pursuits.
That craving for the fix at any cost is pure addiction, and feels utterly out of my hands - the id and ego are in charge here, overruling any attempts by my super-ego to take control. To make matters worse, Peggle Blast is seemingly endless. I've played through over 200 levels, and only now does it look like this reckless nightmare is coming to an end.
What really, really scrapes my throat is that that gameplay is every bit as compelling as it ever was... yet there are levels that are virtually impossible to complete without spending money. It's a killer combination. Like, I'm sure, many others, I think nothing of blowing £7.99 on a bunch of Peggle coins, to spend on power-ups or to unlock another clutch of levels that should last just until my next meeting.
Every single time, I shout down the voice that's telling me to stop, and deafen the subconscious alarm bells. Then every single time that Apple invoice comes through, I see how much I've spent - oh, the temporary ignorance of thumbprint purchases - and feel appalled, wracked with shame and self-loathing.
In the short term, Peggle Blast seems like a wise business move for the people responsible, but it's less a game than a way of exploiting human weakness. Consequently, players end up resenting themselves as much as the game, and those behind it.
In terms of building brand loyalty, it feels more akin to a scorched earth policy than real customer service; I know I'm the one who's really being played - that PopCap Games, and Electronic Arts, have chosen to drain the goodwill of their punters for a short-term cash boost.
According to an article on Huffington Post, freemium games exploit something called ego depletion, which "refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. A depleting task requiring self-control can have a hindering effect on a subsequent self-control task, even if the tasks are seemingly unrelated."
In short: Peggle Blast works by wearing down our self-restraint until, odds are, we end up spending money on it. It gives us just enough for free that we'll crave more. This works hand-in-hand with a buried benevolence towards the game, because we got given it for free. We instinctively want to reciprocate the apparent altruism of those who hand us a game through what appears to be an act of immense generosity. It's deep psychology, and they know exactly what they're doing; it's like someone baking us a cake, and expecting forty quid in return.
Finally, by using a fictional currency in the game, Peggle Blast obscures the amount of real money we've spent. The players spend real money to buy fake money, which we then spend in the game on non-existent things. It's only later that we confront our woeful life choices.
The really annoying thing about Peggle Blast is that, on a gut level, I know all the above. I know I'm being exploited, I know EA isn't being generous in giving me the game for free, and they want me to act like an idiot. They want me to be that kid who blows £6,000 on his dad's card. They don't care of the consequences for me, or how it stains my soul - they just want to see the money coming in.
They took my love for their franchise, and they found a way to monetise it. They found a way to press buttons that I don't want to be pressed by their expensively-manicured fingers, hiding their scheme behind cartoon unicorns and cute turtles. All of it is carefully orchestrated, and specifically designed to look as appealing and innocent as possible - they're a mugger dressed as a kitten.
I know what they're doing, I've spent enough money, felt bad enough about myself, and if you've avoided it thus far, I implore you to keep away. You'll be glad to hear that, at last, I have learned my lesson, and I am done with Peggle Blast.
Just as soon as I finish these last few levels...