House Flipper, the game that keeps forcing me to compromise my morals
house pinball is a home improvement simulator that has built and nurtured a dedicated community and home improvement enthusiasts. The principle is simple: buy a house, renovate it and resell it with a small profit. It makes messy chores entertaining; the slow transformation of a dilapidated ruin into something elegant is extremely satisfying.
you have to return it
Players start with no money in the bank. This poses a problem: before you can flip a house, you must be able to buy one with cold hard cash. Thus, players must pick up odd jobs to earn a crust. Jobs arrive by e-mail to your personal computer. At first, these jobs are fairly innocuous. Clean my garage. Pick up my trash. Things like that. Most of the time, these emails are quite direct, with little more than a paragraph about the work to be done. These are mostly fluff as the game presents the player with a list of tasks and the completion percentage, once they are there. Because of this, most players end up skimming through emails or not reading them at all. It’s a shame. While most of them are pretty normal, some of these emails are heartbreaking and several others are downright awful.
The first email is from a woman whose ex-boyfriend sold her radiator and ransacked the house. She would like you to clean the place and replace the radiator.
If I were her, I’d rather move than bother to fix it.
Another potential lead explains that they rented their house to a group of college students. Unfortunately, the students have stopped paying their rent. When the owner entered the property they found the place to be filthy. They also found the tenants lying on the kitchen floor in a drunken stupor.
I found myself feeling pretty sorry for this poor person who just wanted to make a little extra money in retirement and got screwed over by some rowdy comrades. Considering the number of bottles of wine, they probably could have paid rent and more. This level also serves as an intro to the game for cockroaches, so take it into consideration if any bugs scare you (you can disable them in the options menu if they do).
Another sad job came from a man whose wife had died. He wrote in his email that he couldn’t stand being in a house full of memories, so he bought a new one. He demands that his two daughters’ bedrooms be painted in their favorite colors and that the job be finished quickly, as living in his current house is hurting him.
And then there are the monsters. A man offers a job, wanting to have his house painted while his cousin is at an art show. Well, twist, it’s not his house. The house belongs to the absent cousin who has no idea his house is about to change color. Taking this job got me thinking. I could already see the AITA Reddit post: “Painted my cousin’s house while she was at an art show, AITA?” The thread would be filled to the brim with YTA (You’re The Arsehole) verdicts.
I knew that, morally, it was a job that I should not accept. If the man making the request hated the place so much he was willing to pay me to paint several rooms in a house he didn’t own, why not move out and find his own place? The dilemma the job presented made me agonize for a good ten minutes before I finally decided to do it. I’m just here to do a job, I rationalized. The fallout does not belong to me. It’s not my problem.
The colors he wanted were awful, by the way. an asshole and it tastes awful.
Emails returned to relative normality after that. Lots of cleaning this, fixing that, and painting that wall over there. It was until I reached the Pinball of the apocalypse quests. Pinball of the apocalypse is a paid DLC that comes with my version of the game.
This job required me to create a home for a man’s mother-in-law. He asked for simple furniture, a basic sink, a bed and a bathroom. He then added, ominously, that he didn’t think his mother-in-law would be around for long. And hey, since you’re passing by, why not put some survival stuff in there too.
I arrive at the property to find a ladder leading to where I need to work. The guy wants his stepmother to live in an underground bunker. I mean, look, I’m gonna do it anyway because I need the money to flip the house, but I kept thinking the worst. Is this man planning to kill his stepmother? I can’t help but notice there’s a gun on the wall and he’s technically asked for more. The most innocent reading of this script is that this man hopes to cause his stepmother such an affront that she doesn’t leave the place, paving the way for the man cave of his dreams. The worst case scenario is that he plans to lock his stepmother in an underground bunker and murder her.
See you at the trial, I guess? This email is proof of premeditation. He could argue that she slipped on the scale, I suppose, but still.
I was deeply suspicious the whole time I worked on this job.
Yes, I accepted the job anyway.
After that, house pinball life has returned to worldliness once more. I ended up buying the garden pinball machine DLC because I felt I couldn’t flip a house properly without doing the garden too. This added yard work and with it the ability to unlock gardening tools. It was relaxing to take care of the yard and the exterior of the house. A nice change of page between cleaning and painting the interior.
And then we got another terrible email.
This time the job required me to pluck a handful of flowers that the writer’s mother was very proud of before returning home. He asked me to keep the front ones intact so she wouldn’t realize the rest had been removed.
What an awful son. It doesn’t say where his mother is, but I’m guessing right away it’s the hospital. She will come home eager to see her garden, only to find that two-thirds of it is gone. In its place will be vines and fruit trees. I hate this man. What’s going on with the people in the house pinball people playing with houses that don’t belong to them?
Here, I finally took a kind of moral position. In an act of defiance, I moved the flowers to another garden bed and planted the requested trees in their place. He never said I had to throw the flowers away. Compromise, terrible fictional son that I hate!
After dealing with all those horrible people, I had finally gained enough capital to start flipping houses instead of cleaning other people’s houses.
Go back. Return it well.
The path house pinball works is once you buy a property and arrive on site, a list of potential buyers will appear in the upper left corner of the screen. The person at the top is the one willing to shell out the most money for the property. They also broadcast live commentary on what’s happening to the house, allowing you to manipulate the amount of the sale in your favor.
This is a little closer to the current Australian real estate market for more comfort.
Properties are generally in poor condition when you move in. I like to sell everything in the house right away because everything is usually half broken or just plain ugly. This leads to potential buyers yelling things like “What?! No bathroom?!” and “I only need a bedroom and a bathroom, understand?!” Two potential buyers constantly complain about a lack of televisions. A friend suggested that I create a wall of televisions nothing only for them. I had planned to put one in each room but why not save time and create a feature wall? In another strange parallel to the current Australian property market, many of these buyers present themselves as entitled and rude. If they irritate me (and most of them do), I will deliberately avoid the things they like.
I finally cracked. I can no longer be made to compromise on my morals. Gambling has now become less about money and more about teaching these fictional people.
To give the player additional leads, the loading screens feature comments from potential buyers. You will see them long before you even buy your first home. Two of the names that pop up, maybe the TV fanatics, absolutely insist on having a sauna in their house. A woman wants plants, pictures and nothing for the “little brats”. Why the hell am I building nice houses for these horrible people? Guess I’ll keep selling to grandma and grandpa over and over again. They’ll have a strong wallet when I’m done.
Sick of the demands, I ended up grabbing the Pinball HGTV expansion. The expansion broke the now-understood gameplay loop, as players work for a company rather than as a sole trader. This changes the previous loop by giving players a council of advisors and letting players choose a course of action from their suggestions. Keep the old furniture or replace it with something more modern? Knock down the wall to open up the room or contain it? My only issue here is that Oliver and Greta, the advisors, aren’t the prettiest role models. They have strange grimaces and slight smiles. I just get a bad vibe from both of them.
Deluxe Pinball once again reverses the loop, and alarmingly so. Players are starting to deal with owners again, but now every property has an introduction, complete with voiceovers and 2D avatars. Rather than emailing you, customers will now contact you face-to-face, telling you what they want on the spot. This is an alarming escalation.
Most of these people are fickle and don’t know exactly what they want. Some residents provide a simple mood board and leave the major decisions up to the player. We love these people, but there are more interesting characters to meet. Most of them are interesting, although one kid who messed up his dad’s yacht made me want to hit on him. The work of “Christopher Gray”, an obvious reference to 50 shades of gray, was certainly an experience. Barney Stinson, the character of Neil Patrick Harris from how I Met Your Mother also seemed to pop up at some point. I made a children’s room as well as a bar.
Another client made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was right next to the water and everything.
Despite its many strange, sometimes familiar characters, and its willingness to throw me into deep and repeated moral dilemmas, house pinball is a great casual game. I really liked playing it. It is available on Steam and currently has five expansion packs. A sixth extension, house pinball Pets, should be released in May, and a seventh, farm pinball machine, was recently announced.