On most days, the first thing I do when I wake up is check on my babies. I feed them, play with them, nurture them so that one day they will be ripe for making more babies (the ultimate goal is having a high-quality reproductive assembly line). I pride myself on how beautiful my children are, how they’ve grown into productive members of society, how others stare at their beauty. This is all despite the guy I’m seeing giving me a judgmental glare because I’m taking care of dragons on my phone. Yes, I do call myself Mother of Dragons sometimes.
But I love my children. My roommates love my children and take care of their own. My beautiful dragons in Flight Rising come in all sizes and colors. Some are small, only about three feet in length from the tip of each wing, while others would tower over buildings. Some are covered in tiger stripes and clown spots, while others have furry stomachs and shining wings. Many of them have little bear or plant friends, and all of them help me hoard gold and fight monsters in the woods. Occasionally another dragon breeder will take a look at my lair and give one beast a bow to wear or a piece of armor to accentuate their glowing chests.
A Flight Rising nest.
Lately I’ve become obsessed with two breeding games: Flight Rising and Flutter. In each, you lay eggs and hatch them to grow your lair, although the method varies. In Flight Rising, you are given two basic dragons—one male and one female—that will lay your first nest. Over time, you will gather more species with more unique genes that you can pass on to the next generation. Flutter is less scientifically sound, despite having a more educational slant. With Flutter’s butterflies, you have to collect “attract flowers” that can combine with other flowers to produce eggs, which turn into caterpillars. You level them up by feeding them leaves, allowing them to crystallize and eventually turn into butterflies that have real-world counterparts. As you grow them, you’ll learn facts about the breeds and unlock special abilities, and unless there are strands of superpowered butterflies I don’t know about, that last part is not true to life.
These aren’t even the first breeding games I’ve played. I, like many 90s kids, was raised by games where I raised things, sometimes without even realizing it. I grew up with my eyes straining to make out my little Tamagotchi blob and its tiny, pixelated excrement. One of the first websites I frequented when we got the internet in my home was Neopets, a precursor to Flight Rising in which players raise creatures, feed them, and play with them so they grow up happy. Pokémon, which is more of a bug-collecting simulator than a breeding game, eventually added the ability to lay Pokémon eggs. Create your own Pokémon, get shinies, get rare breeds, tell your friends. Mobile gaming has only made playing these kinds of games easier. I’m still hurting my eyes trying to clean up after my Tamagotchi, except it’s on my Samsung.
I’ve played so many breeding games and every one has been a community-focused, storytelling experience. It’s not just about using strategy in order to get the best shinies or continuous grinding to isolate your favorite genes, but about comparing your stories with friends. The core of Flight Rising is the competition that comes from breeding, since every player is split up into an element, or “flight,” that gets its own forums and battles for “dominance,” which will give you bonuses throughout the week. Some of the factions, such as Lightning and Ice, have their own drama and rivalries, but for the most part, the clans are there to help. There are threads specifically for bragging about your new hatchlings, but there were ones that help new players get started with non-basic dragons, create strategy guides for dominance, and share items. A good portion of the game takes place on Google Spreadsheets, where players organize to think about how they can get the most out of their dragons that particular week.
Despite the fact my roommates were with different flights, we would have hours-long discussions on the best way to get dragons with the crystal gene or how to get more gems, which was the more sought after currency. My roommate Katy was the one that hooked me onto the game during one of its open registration periods and she was the one that told me that the best way to get gems was to level up familiars and sell the rewards, usually golden treasure chests, or to use the monthly festivals to sell exclusive items. There’s a lot of grinding in the minigames on the site that can help as well.
“I’ve been doing nothing but playing the games,” she said with a sigh. It’s a lot of work to get the best dragons.
Flutter also has a lot of this, although it’s less organized. It doesn’t force you to interact with others like Flight Rising does, but it runs with the assumption that you will anyway. Most game-based discussions take place within groups of Facebook friends that can send each other gifts and talk about strategy. Yes, there is strategy in a game about laying eggs. For instance, Flutter recently wrapped up a two week-long event that featured a special, limited edition breed. It became a competition to see which one of us was able to complete the five-butterfly set first. None of us did but it was fun trying to race for the finish.
“No matter how hard I try, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get the final butterfly,” my roommate Jess told me towards the end of that period.
“I was able to get a butterfly that allows me to lay an egg for free,” I revealed. “I also have butterflies that let me create flowers for free, so it’s a little easier for me.”
I still didn’t complete the set but I was a subject of jealousy in the apartment. I was very proud of my colorful butterflies and how I had seemingly used the game against itself.
Playing a breeding game is a lesson in complexities. They become less about birthing and caring for dragons or butterflies and more about trying to discover how to get the finest, most show-worthy specimens. Sometimes it becomes about strategy guides, spreadsheets, roundtables with fellow players, hundred-page forum threads, hours of raising money, pairing creatures, and feeling terrible when you birth boring ones. However, even after I’ve spent most of a weekend taking care of a nest, I can still talk to my friends about what I’ve accomplished and they’d respond without sarcasm. They won’t look over my shoulder and judge me… all that much.
Carli Velocci is a freelance writer in the Boston area. Besides working on her webzine Postmortem Mag, she can also be seen ranting at Kill Screen, Paste, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @velocciraptor.