Massively Casual

Massively Casual
Falling Into a Happy Aquarium

Wendy Despain | 27 Jul 2010 12:40
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Speaking of artificial intelligence, computers hold a special place in our nightmares. Now, whether or not the robot revolution is really coming, humans love power fantasies. We like displaying our power, experiencing power over other things, and getting more power. We especially love power over mysterious things like technology. Good games let us feel like we're effecting meaningful change on a computer. We want to be the clever one in the equation. FarmVille does an excellent job of building up the player's ego and sense of empowerment. It may be called FarmVille, but you can purchase a tiny little Swiss Bank if you have enough cash (in game or otherwise).

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FarmVille then lets you display to all your friends how powerful and clever you are. It gives comforting feedback convincing you that you're the one making the decisions on your little plot of land, making you feel like the robot-monster overlord and king of the world. Awesome.

But if you ask the business development guys, they'll tell you the genius of these games is in the social aspects. That's why they're different, right? They're web Two Point Oh. Shiny. If they want to sound smart, they throw around terms like "the politics of gifting." I'm skeptical. The politics of gifting are unpredictably affected by microculture, family tradition, and I don't know - maybe even birth order. In my opinion, they're too inconsistent to be a real game mechanic.

However, this doesn't mean that I think the social connections on Facebook have no impact on how the game is fun. I don't know how seriously people take "levels" in FarmVille. I'm not nearly as hardcore on that game as some people I know. But I can tell you there was a 4th of July tank decorating contest in Happy Aquarium and fun was had by all. The winner decked out the bottom of her tank with the image of an American flag sketched with red, white and blue coral. The fish were all color-coordinated too. This kind of competition among friends is at the heart of all games. Facebook makes it easy.

There are other kinds of social interaction mediated by Facebook games. Have a cousin you haven't spoken to in twenty years friend you on Facebook? Gift him a rabbit or a board or a brick or something. It's a nice gesture, requires no drastic action, and will give you something to talk about at the next family reunion. Works for awkward high-school friendships, too. Much better than Facebook's original "poke."

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