Pando

'Alto's Adventure' offers a break from the iPhone's noxious intrusions

By Nathaniel Mott , written on February 20, 2015

From The News Desk

The iPhone 6 is marvelous. It does everything a modern smartphone should: its screen turns on, its speakers work, and its antennas connect to various wireless networks. And it does those things better than every other iPhone I've ever used -- which is why I feel bad about hating the damned thing whenever it vibrates, chimes, or illuminates its screen with another notification.

Apple's cruelest breakthrough was figuring out how to convert electricity into anxiety. All one has to do is download some apps, plug an iPhone into a wall, and wait for the notifications to start interrupting what feels like every waking moment. Twitter mentions. Email threads. The daily reminder that an application downloaded and immediately forgotten about is still there.

Those notifications are designed to make the brain's pleasure center squirt shots of dopamine into the rolls of fat and muscle that separate humans from insects. Mostly they just make me anxious. So I've started deleting apps from my phone, canceling subscriptions to things I don't need, and contemplating the indefinite suspension of my far-too-numerous social accounts.

I write all this not with the pretense that others haven't complained about the smartphone's intrusion into our daily lives, or that my relationship with my iPhone is unique, but with the hope of explaining why I want to discuss a game that turned my iPhone into a calmer device.

The game is called "Alto's Adventure." It was made by Snowman, the iPhone development studio behind the Checkmark and Shifts productivity apps, and released earlier this week. It's not free to play, unlike many other mobile games, but nor does it rely on in-app purchases. And downloading it was perhaps the best software-related decision I've made in a while.

"Alto's Adventure" is simple. A man on a snowboard travels down an endless mountain to catch his runaway llamas while collecting coins and performing feats of snowy derring-do. There are some objectives, like reaching a specific point or gathering a certain number of coins, but meeting them is a choice. The game doesn't seem to particularly care about them.

I've spent most of my time in "Alto's Adventure" just cruising down the mountain, enjoying its deep colors and the subdued-but-upbeat soundtrack. Most of the objectives I met were done by accident; I've had several opportunities to meet another, but I decided just to keep going. The game is calm and relaxing, unlike every other app on my phone, and that's why I like it.

And I'm not the only one looking for respite from intrusive software. Others have said "Alto's Adventure" is one of their favorite games or "an engaging, relaxing, and beautiful experience." Apple is calling attention to "rest & relaxation" products in the App Store this week. The most intrusive product of the modern era (not counting Google Glass) is being told to chill out.