For such a simple game, Agar.io has gained a lot of traction, and even a spot in season 4 of House of Cards. Why the fuss? There are small balls that you eat and large balls that try to eat you. It’s brilliant, it’s simple, it’s addicting. It captures your life changes as you grow old and move between social classes.
You want to play it all the time because it is everything.
You are spawned as a tiny and irrelevant circle in a 2-D world. You don’t know what’s going on. You have no idea how big the map is—you’re on some sort of grid that seems to stretch in all directions. You move around with your cursor and start exploring. You see these colorful circles that sit everywhere around you, smaller than you. You try to eat them and you grow. You notice that there are other balls around you, in different sizes, and that you can eat the ones that are smaller than you, and the bigger ones can eat you. So you keep eating and you grow, and you get eaten and you start over.
Meanwhile, you learn about what’s around you. There are green spike balls. You don’t know what they’re for because they don’t affect you. There seems to be a sort of “Leaderboard” with names of the 10 biggest circles on the grid. You don’t know what any of the names mean and have no conception of how big they are. You certainly haven’t met anyone on the top ten personally, and you don’t think you ever will—after all, this map seems to never end.
It doesn’t seem much like a game. You either stop playing here, or you keep going. You are pretty bored, but it’s beautiful. You like the colors. You keep eating the dots and you grow.
Soon enough the smallest circles—the plants of this world—don’t help you grow very much. You’ll grow faster if you eat other players. But you have to be strategic about it. When you’re bigger, you’re slower. You either have to chase them down, as slow as you are, or else split off to “shoot” half of yourself in order to eat them, hoping to merge back together before your smaller divisions get easily eaten. There are lots of guys at the bottom and only a few at the top. You have to strategize.
It starts being a game.
You start seeing the guys on the Leaderboard. They don’t bother you—you’re still too small for them to mess with. After all, they’re strategizing too. They’re too slow to make rash moves and take risks for somebody as small as you. If they accidentally run into a spike ball while chasing you, they break apart. You don’t know any of this yet. You have no idea how they think: all you know is that you’ve seen them, and they are BIG. You can’t imagine ever being that big or making it on the Leaderboard.
You’ve made some mistakes by now. You’ve been eaten and you’ve started over. You learned that your brand is important; if you are named “Osama Bin Laden” people will single you out for attack and if you are named “Bernie” people might release some of their mass to feed you. You’ve chased somebody who was way too big, and they ate someone just in time to be big enough to eat you. You’ve seen others desperately flee for their lives only to be cornered. You’ve been cornered yourself. You’ve tried making alliances with other players by giving them some of your own mass. You’ve been betrayed. You looked for shortcuts and realized there are none: it’s all just patience and timing and vigilance.
You’re #9 on the Leaderboard. Not bad.
You want to stay there. You’ve already met some of the other top players: you noted where they are, how big they are, if they are bigger than you. You want to meet them all, but you know you might die first. The map seems smaller now: these huge masses, your newest threats are becoming hard to ignore. After you reach #5, you become preoccupied with #1. In this excitement, you get rash, forgetting that the way you got here was through patience, vigilance. But at this point, you need to take risks…
All that is certain is death.