I have a problem. An addiction. An impulse I often struggle to restrain.
I’m a collector. Not so much of physical objects, thankfully. Except for a foray into Marvel comic book cards from the early 90’s and the extensive (and heavy) rocks and minerals collection I started as a kid, I’ve managed to keep away from collecting “things”. Not that I haven’t wanted to, but the expense and space needed to complete a set of whatever items are needling the obsessive section of my brain at the moment is usually just enough to keep me from going on an Ebay spree.
Mainly I like to collect experiences and sights. So perhaps it’s not that I’m a collector, I’m more of a completionist, a cataloguer. Ask anyone who follows me on Instagram, I like to photograph the plants and animals I encounter out in the world: a) because I enjoy nature and b) because that record enters some big lifetime list of mine. Akin to hardcore birdwatchers who keep a checklist next to their binoculars, “Chickadee sighted and checked off, still waiting to find that Ivory-billed Woodpecker.”
Enter my main hobby: geocaching. I’ve written about the “collect ‘em all” impulse that geocaching scratches but since I’ve found all the caches that are reachable within work-lunch-break walking distance, I’ve had to look to other geo-location games for a reason to escape my desk. I got bored with Ingress. Munzee is ok but I have some gripes that I’ve not yet put into words here; plus there’s not a lot of participation in my area. My App Store account is littered with deleted apps like Strut, Figibox, and Monster Cache, each having interesting hooks but ultimately not enough staying power.
Every so often I’ll search for “GPS game” or “geocaching” to see if a new app pops up and on one such search I came across the game Wallabee. Its description seemed promising, a location-based, collecting and trading game. You try to collect complete sets of themed items, mixing some together to make others. Items can be collected by scavenging from nearby real-world locations, traded/bought from other players, or bought via the game’s “store” using an in-game currency. Every item comes with an assigned number, its timestamp for when it was generated by the game. The lower the number the more rare and sought after it is.
I knew from the start that Wallabee would be trouble. It became very clear that the game is the very embodiment of a time-waster. Worse still, its drip-feed rewards systems are horrifyingly addictive and I would play for just a few clicks longer than I intended, hoping that this virtual slot machine would finally spit out the digital item I wanted. I found myself opening Wallabee to continue scavenging for items just before I went to sleep each night or first thing in the morning (or over breakfast, occasionally at work, perhaps during dinner…). I spent ages researching item combinations so I could finally complete the various sets I was “working on”. It got bad.
I continued this obsessive behavior for a few weeks, collecting quite a few items, even completing a set. It was then that cracks in Wallabee began to show and the light of my possible escape to a Wallabee-free-existence shone through. I came to realize that the location-based aspect of Wallabee was completely irrelevant. I never picked up any rare items by scavenging real-world locations. I kept getting the same items over and over again. It took me ages just to complete that one set and even then I did so by saving up enough in-game currency to buy the final pieces from the in-game store. I never felt rewarded for exploring new real-world areas, the only way I could get the good stuff was by grinding out for more currency.
What finally broke me free from the grim darkness of Wallabee was when I went to read up on high level Wallabee play, wondering, “What do you do when you’ve collected all the items?”. Wallabee releases new items nearly every week but there would come a time when that wasn’t quick enough. I discovered that long-time players move on to replacing their inventory with items of lower/certain rarity numbers. Some people collect 200’s, some collect prime numbers. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. That was too far.
Wallabee, a free app, is commendable for not being too gross about asking players for money. During my entire time with the game I only spent about $5 which the game deserved considering the enjoyment I got from it.
Its community of players, while a little odd, are welcoming– I regularly was gifted rare items from strangers who saw that I had just started playing. Playing Wallabee wasn’t an unpleasant experience, just shallow and unfortunately not the location-based game it purports itself to be.
However, because it generally takes me decades to actually finish a blog post, recently the company that owns Munzee (which actually IS a location-based game) has taken over development of Wallabee. That’s tremendously encouraging, especially after hearing on the GeoGearheads Podcast that the Munzee folks, while respectful of Wallabee’s history, aren’t necessarily afraid of changing things up. At the very least I hope they take a hard look at making traveling to new locations more rewarding, I really want a reason to get away from my work desk more often.