[The following text is part of my upcoming master's thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children. This is just a rough first draft, and I gladly welcome all critique and suggestions – be it on a content level or regarding my use of language.
After having analysed some of the most-played Facebook games in previous instalments of this series (Candy Crush Saga, FarmVille 2, Puzzle Bobble Clones, Diamond Dash and Pet Rescue Saga), this final chapter looks at what is so "social" about these "social games" – if at all.]
It is a common assumption that games that are part of the Facebook platform are inherently more "social" than other games, since that platform offers the possibility to developers to tap into the social graph.
[The following text is part of my upcoming master's thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children.]
FarmVille by Zynga is probably one of the best known Facebook games to date, both because of players that cannot seem to quit the game and their Facebook friends that are annoyed by the game's ceaseless stream of pleas for help, designed to suck in even more players. FarmVille 2 has several tightly interwoven game mechanics that manage to keep the player glued to the game. The most important among them are the tight feedback loops, where finishing one task has an immediate effect on the next task at hand; a constant stream of quests that provide temporary "winning" conditions in an otherwise endless game; the possibility of self-expression through decoration, even if severely limited and finally the integration of Facebook friends that "ask for help", cleverly exploiting social norms that result in players returning to the game again and again.
This needs your immediate attention, so it will be a huge success.
Ian Bogost, videogame scholar, made the ultimate Facebook game, the very essence of all those games.
It is deceptively simple: you have a cow. You can click the cow, every six hours.
... and yes, that's it.
It is called, not surprisingly, Cow Clicker, and it can be played on Facebook. Of course, there is a bit more behind than just a funny name. It is both a parody as well as an exercise, an answer to the claims that the so-called social games on Facebook by Playfish and Zynga are not real games at all.
Most will consider Cow Clicker to be satire, and that's true in part at least. But satire these days risks becoming mere conceptual art. The idea of the "cow clicker" popped into my head almost involuntarily, as a playfully deprecatory name that seemed plausible enough that it might be real. The name was almost enough; surely it didn't need to be made. Here's what led me to do it anyway. [...]
As I prepared for the NYU seminar, I realized that theory alone might not help clarify social games—for me or for anyone in attendance. It's nice to think that "theorist/practitioners" like myself and Aki can translate lessons from research to design and back like adept jugglers, but things are far messier, as usual. The dialectic between theory and practice often collapses into a call and response panegyric.