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Bejeweled 3: Zen

It probably seems very strange that I’m talking about Bejeweled 3 when Skyrim is sitting neatly in my digital library with about a year’s worth of content collecting dust. I think the Steam sale is primarily to blame for this. Bejeweled 3 was just recently on sale for $10, and while I’ve played Bejeweled games once or twice on a phone here and there in the past, I’d never owned Bejeweled before.

I wasn’t a big fan of it when I played it; I figured it was too repetitive and simplistic. But this is PopCap, who made what I still consider to be one of the greatest games ever made, so I figured there must be something to it. I mean, this isn’t just Bejeweled. It’s Bejeweled 3! It’s all shiny and graphicsified!

Well it turns out there is something to it. Multiple things, actually. The classic mode is the repetitive and yet strangely addictive slog we all know and/or love. There’s a time attack mode, which I didn’t like too much. There’s a puzzle challenge mode, with a multitude of varying challenges that require you to think carefully or quickly. I liked those a lot. And then there’s Zen Mode.

Let me tell you about Zen.

Some people say that “casual” games like Bejeweled and Angry Birds aren’t actual games, and that they’re just “time-wasters.” I’d disagree for the most part, but I do think Zen mode probably doesn’t count as a game, because I always figured that for something to be a game, it must pass the following two requirements:

  1. It must have a pre-determined goal of some sort.
  2. It must have the possibility to either pass or fail.

Bejeweled Classic passes this test. Zen mode is like Bejeweled Classic, but it doesn’t have an end, and it’s designed so that you never fail. You can keep going on and on and you’ll never lose or win. It sounds boring, but Zen is a game mode meant entirely to help you unwind. To achieve this they added several features commonly associated with meditation; there’s breath modulation, there’s a list of soft aural tones you can choose from, and you can have positive affirmations appear periodically at the bottom of the screen.

Speaking as someone who has been struggling with depression and self-confidence issues for years now, I find it wonderfully therapeutic to relax and arrange gems while taking deep breaths, listening to the sound of rain falling on leaves and seeing lines such as, “I am strong.” “I can achieve great things.” “People admire me.”

In Bejeweled the game will point an arrow at a gem you can move if you’re stuck for awhile. Normally at that point I’d be frantically searching for the next gem because I’ve looked across the entire board and still can’t find it, but in Zen mode it tends to happen a lot because my brain has slowed down to the point where I’m barely paying attention to the game anymore.

It’s essentially meditation, but with Bejeweled. And I think that’s a really great combination. I can’t see it feasibly working with any other PopCap game, at least the ones I’ve played. Plants vs. Zombies often requires quick thinking and I don’t see how it could be designed to never lose. Peggle involves a lot of sitting around and watching the ball bounce, and it can easily cause frustration when you miss. But Bejeweled is perfect for the role. It keeps you active enough to prevent boredom while not putting any pressure on you whatsoever.

And I think the best part about it is how you can edit everything to your liking. You can control the speed of the breath modulation, the sound of each individual aspect, the type of aural sound and the category of affirmations. Personally I chose to turn down all the regular sounds of the game (the gem explosions and the voice actor yelling “EXCELLENT!” were quite distracting), listen to the soft rain sound and see the “Self Confidence” affirmations. This made the experience work really well for me personally. I’m sure others would choose differently, and they can.

Like I said before, this isn’t really a “game,” or at least not the kind of thing we gamers refer to as games. This isn’t the kind of thing you can (or should) play for hours and hours, but it’s a great way to unwind and relax, and I can see it becoming my nightly routine to play this for a little while before I go to bed.

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