5) …a place I recognize
Every floor in Tiny Tower is a perfect little scene, and every scene is something I recognize.
The Asian Cuisine is a PF Chang’s. The Sub Shop is a Subway. The Video Rental is a Blockbuster. The Smoothie Shop is a Jamba Juice. The Mapple Store is an Apple Store. The Game Store is a GameStop. The Tech Store is a Best Buy. The Cake Studio is the place from Ace of Cakes. The Coffee House is a Starbucks. The Frozen Yogurt is a Pinkberry. The Shoe Store is a Footlocker. The Diner is my local diner. The Mexican Food looks just like a Mexican Restaurant tends to look.
The outfits are familiar. The Barista outfit is a Starbucks uniform. The Fast Food Uniform is a McDonalds Uniform. The Mapple Genius outfit is an Apple Genius outfit. Plumber A and Plumber B are Mario and Luigi. The Monster Suit is Domo-kun. The Engineer is the TF2 Engineer. I have seen the Waiter before, and the Doctor, and the Surgeon, and the Chef. I have seen all these people before. It is probably why I like them so much.
The details are familiar, too. In the Aquatic Apartments, the fish food bottle is the same color as the one I used over a decade ago to feed my goldfish. I saw the Barber Shop’s mirrors, shelves, and chairs only three weeks ago, when I went to have my hair cut. The water cooler in the Health Club is perfect. The ketchup bottles in the BBQ Place are perfect. The kegs in the Soda Brewery are perfect. It’s all perfect. If I had a brain injury and forgot what everything was like, someone could give me this game, and when I finally got out of bed, rehabilitated, I’d be able to recognize all these places perfectly. I’d feel familiar with them. I’d understand how America’s consumer spaces look and feel.
There are two compelling ways to think about this, guys. First: think about how similar all our lives must really be if we really all recognize these places! Everyone who recognizes Tiny Tower’s consumer vignettes is drawing on huge familiarity with brands, store types, and product categories. We all eat the same things. We use the same things. We eat the same things and use the same things in the same places. If we didn’t, Tiny Tower wouldn’t make any sense to us.
However, these moments of recognition also make me think about how different the developers’ world is from mine. I live in Connecticut, and there are no Jamba Juices or Pinkberries in Connecticut. If I’d made the game, I would have left them all out. And because I don’t care much about Apple Stores either, I probably would have left them out too. And I certainly wouldn’t have screwed up the Optometrist shop the way these guys did. Optometrists sell and adjust glasses; they don’t do laser eye surgery, and you have to go to an ophthalmologist to get contact lenses prescribed. My mother is an ophthalmologist. She doesn’t even do laser eye surgery. I grew up with this kind of stuff. If I’d made the game– if I’d made consumer viginettes specific to my own life– I wouldn’t have gotten it wrong. If I’d made the game to match my miserable, stay-at-home life, there’d only be about five shops total. One would be Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Another would be a Stop + Shop. One would be XBLA. All the others would be different parts of my Steam client.
In about eighty years, I and my old-people friends will sit around reminiscing about old restaurants and businesses from the year 2011. We will have had different experiences. We will disagree on all the details. Unfortunately, we probably won’t have Tiny Tower around to help us settle the score. If I had the cash to spare, I’d buy an extra iPhone today, install Tiny Tower, and hide it in a time capsule with a charging cord. I’d dig it up with my garden trowel in eighty years and burst into the argument.
“This is what it was like,” I’d say, holding out the game.
“Oh,” the others would say. They’d recognize the places and the things and the people. They’d recognize BitBook. They’d see themselves in this game. “Yes,” they’d say. “You’re right. We’d forgotten.”
Tiny Tower is a vertical slice. It reflects our world. But it’s things like Tiny Tower which also create our world, and shape the way we understand it.
Tiny Tower is a pretty big deal, guys.