I’m not a huge fan of mobile games. I despise their small ambitions and their sleek addictive interfaces, perfectly designed to exploit the worst, dopamine releasing, misdesigned parts of our fragile ape-brains. I hate how they brazenly ask for money, not coy at all about their greed. Almost every mobile game is a Skinner box, with us as the helpless and confused pigeons inside. Why we let them do this, I don’t know.
“Florence,” a short, experimental, expressive mobile game, is luckily not any of those things. It was originally released in 2018, but I only played it after it made its way to the computer in 2020. “Florence” takes about 30 minutes to play, and follows the story of the titular Florence as she meets and falls into a new relationship. It’s simple, almost obsessively so. There’s no dialogue, just art and sound, and the palette of colors is simple and expressive. It has the same impulse for simplicity that runs through most mobile games, but it lacks any trace of greed. It’s honest and simple.
For me to even call “Florence” a mobile game is perhaps misleading. I still have never played it on a phone. But the “mobileness” of the game runs deep into its structure. The gameplay in “Florence” is a series of small interactions: picking up things around the house, aligning photos, cooking, making space for new items. Everything is done through a drag and drop interface. The game was clearly imagined for a phone, where one would naturally use the touch screen.
The story is so simple that I can’t say much without spoiling it, but at the same time it isn’t so complex that you couldn’t predict every turn and twist of its 30 minutes from the setup. “Florence” is a game of primary colors, from its palette to its characters to its plot. It’s basic, but directly and honestly so. Refreshingly so. It’s sleekness, its simplicity, doesn’t hide greed, or microtransactions, or the repeated suggestion that you should turn on notifications. It’s just a game that wants to tell a story. It does not yearn for your interaction in the way that most apps do.
But, it doesn’t last long, and it’s not free. The 30 minutes will cost three dollars – an amount which is almost stunning in its audacity. Nowadays we expect more “value” than that from almost every piece of entertainment. This is especially true of free mobile games, which we expect to extract infinite entertainment from without spending a dollar. “Florence” has something to prove then. In the world of apps, three dollars is a king’s bounty.
I’m not sure that “Florence” proves itself worthy of that king’s bounty. But on an app store that’s constantly trying to curry favor through free games and interactions, and then surprising you with the annoyance of microtransactions and notifications and all of the software’s constant begging, it’s nice to know that someone can still make a mobile game which can just exist and perform its functions honestly. That, I think, is worth far more than a king’s bounty.