Massively Casual

Massively Casual
Falling Into a Happy Aquarium

Wendy Despain | 27 Jul 2010 12:40
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Similarly, a coworker of mine described herself as a responsible friend on Facebook games (as she was trying to convince me to start yet another game addiction). The concept of being a "responsible friend" intrigued me more than TikiFarm did. I had never thought of dividing my friends into responsible ones and irresponsible ones. However, I had appreciated those who came and fertilized my crops and sent them thank you gifts. I just hadn't had any unpleasant thoughts about friends who don't help out on my farm. It's another way to show off, I suppose. Hey look! I'm responsive and considerate! Humans, as a rule, love to show off any positive attribute.

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Some Facebook games have taken the satisfaction of being a responsible friend one step further. You can now be a responsible friend of the planet (and show that off too). Currently, you can buy a sea turtle in FishVille and Zynga will make a donation to the Audubon Society to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Happy Aquarium and Birdland recently finished a similar campaign to donate to the National Wildlife Federation for the same purpose; Facebook games replicate good ideas from competitors at lightning speed.) We feel good about donating to a good cause - and sometimes we enjoy displaying to our friends how awesome we are. Facebook once again makes it easy, letting you post to all your friends about the good deed you've done. Combining a relevant social network with an achievement that you can crow about is intoxicating.

Ultimately, there's one key fun thing FarmVille and other Facebook games have adopted from The Sims - something that makes them truly "social games" in my opinion. A thought-bubble over a character or object shows you what you need to do to change a frowny face to a happy face. And when we manage that particular transformation, we feel all kinds of instinctive satisfaction. Humans love smiles at a subconscious level. Smiles are the inherent reward in successful social interaction - both the result and the instigation of fun in the real world. And in many online social games, including FarmVille, we are constantly rewarded with tiny smiles. The avatars of our friends smile and dance. Little animated dogs smile. Fish smile. Stupid wandering sad lost cows will smile if given a home. Even the act of harvesting crops makes a trilling little laughing sound.

Ultimately, that's what's so fun about FarmVille and other Facebook games. They give us all the traditional rewards and incentives, plus new social rewards in otherwise messy social interactions. Through playing social games like FarmVille, we earn animated smiles with just a few well-placed clicks and some patience. And that's why they're fun for so many people.

Wendy Despain is a freelance game writer and designer currently serving as temporary Advisor in Residence at Full Sail University. She volunteers on the board of directors for the IGDA and takes contracts adding fun to all kinds of games. Even Facebook games.

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