Harvest your crops, feed your dog, serve the dishes… socialize!

On: September 13, 2010
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About Ilektra Pavlaki
Here I am in Amsterdam. Studying in the New Media Master Program and hoping that by the end of this year I will have gained new experiences, new friends, brand new goals. My bachelor was in Communication, Media and Culture in Athens. Then I found myself a 90% dreamy job as a copywriter in a global advertising agency (BBDO). Great boss, big clients, small income :) Fun Theory and Free Hug Campaign magnified my interest in new media. "So, there must be a way to combine passion -advertising- and curiosity-new media-. Let's find out" I said. So... here I am in Amsterdam.

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Let me get this straight. I don’t have a pet. I never felt like growing pumkins. My cooking skills are below average. Does that make me socially “incompatible” with the millions of people playing Pet Society, Farmville, Cafe World and other social games? 

Fun used to be an effortless process. And that was the fun part of it. Today however, one has to struggle, to compete, to undertake missions, to take on responsibilities, to invest time and thought, just not to see the “game over” on his screen.  

So, why do people choose to have fun the painful way? Is it because they want to “live the rural dream” as Farmville suggests in its official Facebook page? A.J. Patrick Liszkiewicz‘s answer sounds more convincing: “people work over time to develop something, and take pride in the fruits of their labor. Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. 

Another interesting aspect in the formation of fun in the digital era, is that social networks give the users the opportunity to live an exciting virtual life. A life free of responsibilities, timetables, routine and yet full of potentials. However, users seem to prefer playing it safe. Growing trees or playing ball with virtual pets and other boring chores,  not only satisfy them but also motivate them to come back again and again.   

Since it’s  hard to believe that people have lost their interest in overcoming game challenges, I think that more and more users join the social game addiction driven by their need to socialize. Don’t forget that every bonus you take, every mission you accomplish gets published on your wall of fame. In addition to that, players may not need imagination, creativity or special skills to succeed in Farmville for example, but they do need a big network of friends, so that they can exchange gifts, share tips, develop a “give and take” relationship.

To conclude, boring or not, addictive or not, social games altered the way we have fun. As Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan outline in The Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS): “Motivationally, this dimension of games and virtual worlds can be compared to the ability to walk. Learning to do so is the means for our participation within the rest of the world, and as such we desire to master it quickly so that we can get on with the real business of “living”. 

3 Responses to “Harvest your crops, feed your dog, serve the dishes… socialize!”
  • September 13, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Very interesting: So by socializing online we accomplish our goals on farmville. This gives me a whole new perspective on my friend who, when she’s visiting me, needs to harvest her crops first on my computer. This means she’s actually really social :)

  • September 13, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Makes me think of Tamagotchis that were around in the late 90’s — looking back now it seems they paved the way for taking care of ‘digital’ stuff — pets, babies, crops, etc.

  • September 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Interesting post! Indeed, we cannot merely judge these the ‘fun’ factor from the ivory tower of game anthology that has brought us nowhere but towards an extremely narrow selection of genres. Here, the question of acknowledging something as hardcore or ‘real’ gaming has been criticized in-depth by authors like Jesper Juul.

    Rather, as Ian Bogost writes, it’s interesting to look at “the way in which these games were games, the manner by which they seemed to magnify the dangerous aspects of games, making those aspects the only ones visible.” According to Bogost, these games turn social relations into commodities (or ‘social capitol’), and keep the player ‘hooked’ by implementing timers.

    These game design ethics without doubt have implications for the norms in terms of online social performance, which demand further inquiry.

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