It’s not a new thing, this game, like so many things online that get noticed. It seems to have been around a few years, and the older child found this game somewhere, probably under the guise of being educational. None of the grownups he showed it to had seen it before.
The whole setup is extremely simple: you move a small white circle around in field full of other moving circles, which come in a range of colors, sizes, speeds, and directions. Bumping into a circle that’s smaller than yours makes the other circle disappear, adds one point to your score, and makes your circle grow larger. Bumping into a circle that’s larger kills you and ends the game. “You dead,” it tells you.
It moves fast and is compulsively playable, but there was something else about it, about the cycle of going from zero to something, or from zero to zero, depending on how the breaks went. As I sent my dot around the screen, squeezing the ever-larger circle through ever-smaller gaps, I realized what was going on: this was what online publishing felt like. Particularly what Gawker had felt like, but the dynamic was general. You start small and nimble and vulnerable, and the more you succeed, the more powerful and less agile you become. The real opponent in the game is your own sense of proportion: you are constantly losing track of your actual scale and context, and of the difference between punching up and punching down. The tactics that keep you alive in the beginning become useless and counterproductive.
And when you finally fail, you are rewarded with subliterate taunting.
I emailed the link to the game to Max Read, my former editor at Gawker, and he wrote back that it was “also fairly addictive well beyond whatever actual pleasure you’re getting out of it.”
Moreover, when you try to Google “circle game” to find it, its SEO is swamped by the ancient trolling children’s game where you try to trick someone into looking at a circle you’ve made with your thumb and finger.
When you try to play it on mobile, it’s impossible.