Brow Beat

Why Are People Still Playing Google’s Halloween Ghost Game in April?

Its appeal belongs to no one season.

Letter-shaped tombstones form the word "Google." Two ghosts, one green and one purple, face off in the foreground.

Ah, spring. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and here I am, still playing Google’s Halloween game.

Let me explain. In October of last year, the Google Doodle team launched its first ever multiplayer interactive game, the Great Ghoul Duel. Visitors to Google’s homepage were assigned to one of two teams and sent into maze-like forests and haunted houses to collect “spirit flames” which would then trail behind their cutesy ghost avatars. Think Pac-Man crossed with Snake—but far more cutthroat, because whichever team successfully brought the most flames back to base was the victor, and players could steal from the opposing team.

At its peak, the Great Ghoul Duel had more than 500,000 players in a 5-minute window, which made it a success in terms of showing off Google Cloud’s capabilities. But here’s the interesting part: The game is still happening. Outside, the spiders, skeletons, and other Halloween decor may have been put away, but online, the Great Ghoul Duel rages on on a commemorative Google Doodle page.

I have a history of continuing to play once-trendy games long after the initial hype has died down, but I’m not alone in being drawn back into this autumnal pastime. Though the Google team declined to share the most recent player numbers with me, a small but still-active subreddit dedicated to the Great Ghoul Duel persists in defiance of its unseasonably spooky atmosphere. One Redditor explains its appeal as “fast-paced, beautifully designed, and simple.” Another says it has become part of their daily routine and that they “play it in between assignments to relieve stress.” There’s even a Discord server.

Really, who can blame any of us for returning to the game? The thrill of stealing a strand of flames from an opponent is intoxicating, as are the power-ups you earn as you collect them, from mere speed boosts to the supreme ability to walk through walls. And the two-minute time limit is ideal if you’re just looking for a quick break—even if the game’s competitive nature makes it oh-so-tempting to keep hitting the button to play again … and again … and again …

The Great Ghoul Duel also lets you host private matches, which I tested out with a few of Slate’s finest gamers. Turns out, it’s equally entertaining when you’re playing one-on-one, though it may destroy friendships and professional relationships when you defeat a worthy foe by just three flames. Maybe you missed the opportunity to play the first time around, or maybe you played the game at Halloween and then forgot about it. Either way, as we enter the season of florals and Easter bunnies, it’s time to dust the cobwebs off the Great Ghost Duel—or rather, to dust them back on.