The number one app for both the iPhone and Android is Draw Something, a one-on-one game that forces its participants to humiliate themselves before their friends with drawings like this one:
This is my drawing of J-Lo. It looks nothing like Jennifer Lopez, the curvaceous diva, actress, and one-time Puffy partner, and it makes me seem as though I am drawing with my forehead while riding a roller coaster.
But even though my portrait of Lopez (in her plunging Versace dress from the 2000 Grammys, no less), naturally makes her look like some kind of horrific nightmare-clown, I am proud of it nonetheless, and was excited to share it with my Draw Something competitor, a friend named Erica, who had to guess what term I was assigned to draw based on my doodle and an assortment of letters.
I'll be frank: I am awful at Draw Something, and seem to lack the necessary motor and artistic skills to accurately Draw Anything. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, however, I find myself with nine Draw Something games running concurrently. I check the app more often than I do Facebook, and I trace out dozens of trembly stick-figure simulacra of fishermen, lion tamers, and hip-hop moguls per day -- during work, in between bites at meals, and in bed before I fall asleep -- in a mechanical, almost obsessive, fashion.
So why am I so hopelessly addicted to Draw Something, if I am indeed so hopeless at Draw Something itself?
Draw Something does what few other iPhone games (or apps, for that matter) have been able to: It connects us with those around us in an authentic, unobtrusive way.
More impressively, it accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of making losing fun. Being terrible at Draw Something is a joyful, joyful experience.
For those of you who haven't yet Drawn Something -- fewer and fewer of you have not, as the app just surpassed an incredible 30 million downloads in about five weeks -- it is essentially a clever mashup of the board game Pictionary and the word jumble in the newspaper. You play with a friend or a random competitor, alternating turns: On your turn, you choose from one of three words of varying difficulty, and then draw that word with your finger in a simple, MS Paint-like interface. When you are finished, you send the drawing to your friend, who watches a video of your brushstrokes in real-time, and then must guess the word, which they unscramble from within 12 jumbled letters at the bottom of the screen. If your partner guesses the word correctly, you both win a set amount of "coins" that can be used to purchase in-game upgrades like more color options or "bombs," which allow you to reduce the number of letters you must unscramble when you are guessing.
Look at Elmo. Look at him! Does he deserve this? More importantly: Who draws like this?
It's all very simple and easy to learn -- just like Words With Friends, the previous King of Peer-Driven Smartphone Gaming, which is often compared with Draw Something and which was recently topped in popularity by the new game.
Unlike Words With Friends, however, Draw Something is -- well, a game that seems more truly for friends. Draw Something is a cooperative game, not a competitive one, less likely to cause inferiority complexes or trigger disputes between companions (Steve, if you're reading this, I still don't believe that you knew that "terbia" was a word when you played it, you lying, conniving, Scrabble-dictionary-using fraud; also, see you at your birthday party this Friday). When both of us play well, we are both rewarded; when we fail, we fail together.
But where I am truly drawn to Draw Something in a way I never was to Words With Friends is in its ability to allow me, and my friends, to express and enjoy ourselves, even in bloody, bloody failure. Sure, I may be awful at accurately rendering Jennifer Lopez using nothing but four colors, my finger, and a screen the size of a business card as my tools. But in my attempts to render her, and even in my dramatic failures to do so, I am sharing with a distant companion something elemental about my personality: who I am, how I think, the ways in which words are processed in my brain. It naturally facilitates the jokes and playful disagreements that strengthen friendships ("You call THAT a drawing of a toilet???"). In both its capacity for beautifully-detailed illustrations or J-Lo-desecrating abominations, Draw Something is a more immediate, personality-filled game than the Scrabble-esque spelling competition it overtook, which was already so successful in connecting people that it has match-made at least one married couple.
To be sure, just as there is much room for improvement in my portraiture, there is also much room for improvement on this five-week-old game, little nips and tucks that can be made in order for it to remain viable and popular. Adding a larger word list to avoid gameplay monotony, as well as a chat box for in-game communication, seem like two vital, easy starts.
And yet given its Jeremy-Lin-esque ascent into the zeitgeist, and its credentials as a truly social game, this is a game that seems poised to continue its epic spread through the smartphone world. Expect the Draw Something marriage bells to ring out any time now. Any bets on which celebrity will be the first to get kicked off a plane for using Draw Something during takeoff?
Regardless of who gets booted for refusing to stow a Draw Something game, one thing is for sure: My fat, sweaty finger and I won't be able to draw him or her accurately, flatteringly, or with any sort of semblance to his or her actual person whatsoever. I guess I'm just a loser -- a Drawsome, Drawsome loser.
Follow Jason Gilbert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gilbertjasono