The simplicity in the complexity
I would like to introduce one of my all time favorite toy, the perplexus epic. It belongs to a series of similar toys and this is the most advanced model among the three of its family. As shown in the picture, twisted plastic tracks are installed inside of a transparent ball with 125 barriers in all. The player needs to navigate a tiny steel ball along the tracks to go along numeric orders and finally to reach the finishing point. It sounds like nothing, and it looks low-tech of course, not even a tiny battery or display is involved. Basically you are looking at a ball with a diameter of 8 1/2″. It’s kinda easy to get started, but I personally find it very hard to master it. To be honest, I haven’t won even once since I bought it two years ago.
I still remember the moment I saw Perplexus ball on the shelf in Toys”R”Us. I was in the middle of an inspiration-searching journey for my toy design class, and the theme was ball games, though at the end of the day, the company wanted big and easy ball games for toddlers. I picked it up from the shelf, totally ignored other “intellectual toys”. I started playing it but kept failing. I was so defeated and ready to leave, but only noticed on the package, it says “for 8+ years”. Well, I guess a lot of 8-year-olds can beat me easily, if they start this early.
With this unnerving feeling, and my eager of victory, I decided to buy it and crack all the barriers and then return it within 30 days. “I don’t keep toys, I’m a grown-up.” I told myself so when swiping the card.
Perplexus Epic - photo from Amazon.com
So why I love it so much even though I have never made it to the end? For the record I am not that type of person who only love things that they can never conquer. To me, Perplexus is more than just a game or a toy.
First of all, it’s a non-digital game. It requires you to maintain your performance at a certain level and it can not be automated. Unlike Temple Run, the famous app on iOS mimicking the character running on trails in the jungle and ancient temples, Perplexus demands your attention at any moment, otherwise, the tiny steel ball falls off the track. Because of this feature, I find out that playing Perplexus can actually calm me down. Amazing huh? I would play it before a very important pitch, final exam, or anything else that kinda stresses me out. If I’m non-shaky at the moment, I may make it to the N0.50 barrier. This sort of achievement gives me confidence to overcome the challenge. Or, when I’m not good enough and fails constantly, say, failing before the first 10 barrier, I don’t really get depressed or discouraged. Instead, I would try again and try to be more focused no matter it works or not. Playing this normally frustrating game is more like a therapy when I am facing a disturbing situation.
So you might want to know, do I ever played it for fun? Of course I do, all the time, but like all the puzzle or problem-solving game, it still makes me feel defeated when the steel ball falls off the track. I have watched Youtube videos of kids around 8 to 10 years old demonstrating how they crack the game within unbelievable 8 minutes. I have tried to simulate the process in my mind like a video game demo to mentally prepared myself before I get my hands on it. It helps sometime, to get me several barrier further. But that’s it, my sweaty hands can ruin it in a second.
I guess that’s the wicked charm of this game for me. It’s not the strategy, decision, or some high level adult things that control this game. It’s the performance, actions, steadiness of your hands and the familiarity of the game that finally leads to the victory, more like a muscle memory. Simple as that!
I might never win this game, but the combination of simple rules and the complex structure of the tracks becomes a perfect philosophy that makes this game a forever fun/challenge to me.