Because of a combination of circumstances–illness-borne insomnia, inability to lie down, being bored with Sims2–I fell into Facebook gaming about six weeks ago. It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve discovered things about myself and other people and surprisingly enough I’m getting a lot more out of this experiment than I thought I would.
For those of you not familiar with this type of gaming–Casual Gaming–it’s fairly straightforward. You perform tasks in a customised setting. Complete performance of those tasks earns you points which you use to level up. You also earn in-game currency to buy decorations or reinvest in the tasks of the game. As you rise in levels you unlock more decorations and fancier ways to earn money. The most popular of these games is Farmville and the farm imitators, but there are others set in restaurants (Cafe World, Restaurant Life), zoos, amusement parks and fish tanks. They are designed to be flexible. You can either play a game for five minutes or for hours, depending on the tasks you choose.
Since the games are on Facebook there is a social component to each one. You can send gifts to friends that are either desirable forms of decoration or useful in performing the tasks of the game. You can also visit your friends farm or restaurant or fish tank to see how she has decorated. You can earn points by performing tasks that help out your friend.
Since the games are initially free they follow what I call the Schoolyard China White business model. The first taste is free, but once you’re hooked you have to pay real money for the good stuff. Now unlike illegal drugs the things you buy in the games aren’t that expensive. But they are generally “cooler”–waterfalls that really move, volcanoes that spew lava–and give your place some cache.
I tell you all of this because it’s instrumental in the discoveries I’ve made in the past month.
1. Many people want something for nothing, want it now and don’t think life is “fair”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across a poorly-written whinge about how all the really cool stuff costs money. Maybe it’s because of all the years my husband worked in start-up tech companies or maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised by wolves. All I know is that I completely understand folks wanting to be paid for their work. I also understand not wanting to give cash money for what is essentially a cartoon. But the way I look at it is this. It doesn’t cost you to play. You can go without. But if you play the game for more than 2 hours a week, investing $5.00 is no worse way to spend your money on entertainment than buying a lottery ticket or renting a video.
2. Many people are actually very kind. I’ve met several really nice, warm-hearted folks.
3. Many people have a deep desire to express some creativity. It’s really a neat experience to see all the fantastically clever things folks come up with in their restaurants, farms and tanks.
4. Some games, especially the farm ones, have the same type of zen I get from knitting. I realise that sounds strange but as I plow the fields from left to right, plant seeds or harvest brightly-coloured crops it’s the same sort of rhythm as moving along the rows with needles and fibre.
5. It’s amazing that we live in a time where access to beauty is so relatively simple. Yes, I know there are many kinds of beauty and computer games aren’t what most people think of when they ponder the idea. But there is an undeniable gracefulness to watching fish swim through Atlantis or looking at a farm complete with streams and watermills. It’s a huge treat and I am thankful to live in a time where it’s possible for someone like me to be able to escape for awhile into such peace.
6. Those kids who whine about the money stuff are still really annoying, though.