Weapon of Mass Crustacean

“Perhaps some psychologist can tell me why it feels so good to inhabit a colossal cosmic crustacean and wreak havoc across the solar system. But I don’t particularly care why.”

The number of games I bring with me when I fly is genuinely ridiculous. I have a case of 18 Nintendo DS and 3DS game, plus a dozen more stored on the system itself. My iPhone holds 60 games, ranked and categorized, with another 40 on the iPad. In my defense, this is a collection of cheap titles amassed over many years. Still, as I thought about them all jammed in my bag and pocket on a flight to New York last week, it made me feel kind of silly. And more so because I didn’t want to play any of them.

My vision blurred as my eyes passed over row after indistinguishable row of colorful rounded squares — carts and apps. No single game asserted itself forcefully enough that I felt like I must play it above the others. That is, until my gaze froze upon an iPad app icon containing a maniacal cartoon crab. Yes, I thought, I need to play Crabitron right now.

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Kids in the Hall is great for many reasons, but I’ve always felt that its crowning achievement was “I’m Crushing Your Head.” It’s an absurd minute-long skit that somehow speaks to the loss of childhood, the pettiness of adulthood, and the solitude of existence, reflected in one silly gesture. Crabitron doesn’t just express these same ideas; it does so using the exact same gesture.

When I first launched the game, I immediately knew what was happening, and it made me giddy with anticipation. A monster space crab lounged at the bottom of the screen, its claws raised. On either side of each claw was a circular outline, inviting me to place a thumb and index finger over them. When I did, the game sprang to life. I pinched my fingers and the crab snapped its claw.

Perhaps some psychologist can tell me why it feels so good to inhabit a colossal cosmic crustacean and wreak havoc across the solar system. But I don’t particularly care why. All I know is that when I pressed my actual fingers together, the claw on the screen crushed a galactic VW Bus, and a bunch of aliens flew out into space. Then I shoveled them into my gaping crab-maw, and the game rewarded me with money. Now, Crabitron is actually well designed, with novel controls and surprising variety, but that’s just a footnote. On a cramped six-hour flight, the game made me feel like I could crack the whole plane in half like a pixie stick and devour everyone inside. Which, it turns out, is all I ever wanted out of in-flight entertainment.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.