Facebook Games, Distilled

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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. This in mind, I thought it might be productive to make an example that would act as its own theory. It’s a strategy I’ve been calling carpentry, and which I’ll be discussing in more detail in my forthcoming book Alien Phenomenology (including this example). In the case of social games, I reasoned that enacting the principles of my concerns might help me clarify them and, furthermore, to question them. So I decided to make a game that would attempt to distill the social game genre down to its essence. Cow Clicker is the result.

Read the rest of the essay over at Ian Bogost’s blog, where he also discusses the four main aspects of social games.

PS: Of course, the best thing that could happen to Cow Clicker would be it getting more traction than FarmVille. Difficult, I know … but … go and play it :P