“You should review Howrse” said Craig, his lips forming a weird shape.
“No, Howrse. Howrse.”
“How-urss”, I gurn back.
“H-O-W-R-S-E. Howrse. Howrse is a browser based thing about horses or something” says Craig, hurriedly wiping a little drool from the edge of his mouth.
“Howrse” I say again. My face starts to feel a little numb.
“Howrse” possesses its awkward name because it is a contraction of the developing company’s name “Owlient” and the word “horse”. They’re a French company and, utilising a French accent, the name becomes a little easier to pronounce but then sounds like the word “Arse”. Remember this detail.
Over six million people play Howrse. It’s also received the seal of approval from Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. Oh, you know…
To sign up I must select a horse or a pony and give it a name. I choose a horse and called him Derek Trotter because that’s the name of a TV character and also something horses sometimes do. I decide that he is a Paint Horse, because they seem to be the fastest, and give him a Palomino Tovero coat, which pretty much just means “grey”. Behold, my gangly little foal:
I have a horse. Now what? Far too many of these browser-based online thingums take you through their registration then dump you into the game without any real sense of what you’re supposed to do or how best to achieve it. Boring help pages are often your only route.
Howrse, however, leaps this hurdle majestically. Ow appears at the top of my page. He’s a little white monkey and when it comes to Howrse he knows his manure. I’m taken through a series of “quests” which show me the basics of caring for Derek Trotter: feeding him correctly, grooming, putting him out to graze and so on. The quests reward Derek and me with carrots, turnips and age points which I can spend to make Derek older so he can do more things in Howrse.
I’m soon able to buy a place at a player-run equestrian centre where Derek can live but in order to pay the rent I’m told I must find a job. After a bit of poking around I see a job advert for a groom. I click “apply” and cross my fingers. Success.
This… game is fun. I’m enjoying rearing Derek, feeding him the correct amounts of hay and grass, watering him, grooming his mane… I’m building up his stamina skill with daily gallops so that when he’s three I can enter him into races.
I complete a quest and Ow gives me a magical golden apple with which I can change Derek’s default avatar picture to something fancier and community made. There are many avatars to choose from; I spend about 15 minutes trying to pick. I eschew rainbow unicorns and rearing flaming stallions in favour of a classic, galloping grey. We’re going to take this seriously, Derek and I. I’ve a feeling this might be the start of something beautiful.
I want to find out more about Howrse. Lots of people play it, I wonder who they are. Are they horse obsessed young people? Horse enthusiasts? Horse professionals? People who play a lot of games? People who don’t play any games? ‘If I can get an interesting insight into the community, it might really spice this article up’, I think as I drop a post at the Howrse forums explaining myself and asking those very questions.
Time for bed Derek. Tomorrow we’ll gallop some more and I’ll feed you oats. You’ll soon be three years old.
The next day I try to log in to Howrse. I’m wondering if I came across as someone potentially dangerous with my post on the forum. It is a kid’s game I suppose and people may be suspicious of someone claiming to be a games writer asking questions, however innocent. Wait a minute…
What? My account’s been suspended due to my username “Arsewisely”? Arse… wisely. I wasn’t challenged when I created it, and no “You have 48 hours to change your name”, just an out-right suspension? Really? That’s cold Owlient.
Worst of all, it’s the digital knacker’s yard for poor Derek.