“Play the game that lets you become a part of the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite,” tempts the tag-line for Gossip Girl’s new Facebook game. Just how tempting is this offer? For the popular TV show’s more than eight million viewers, it’s pretty exciting news. For a female non-gamer like myself, the game seems like just another noise in the marketing clamor.
Warner entertainment is starting to understand that the success of a TV show no longer depends on that show’s artistic merits; yes, gone are the days when entertainment relied on quality writing, acting, and directing; instead, big-name companies fund shows and movies that have the potential to become enterprises.
Gossip Girl is an enterprise, and Warner entertainment is using social media to reach a generation of younger audiences via facebook, “because if you’re not on The Facebook today, then you don’t exist” says the old cranky person in my mind.
Having a virtual presence is essential, and Gossip Girl’s marketing team knows it. They’ve timed the release of the game to coincide with the TV show’s season premiere, creating an nexus of hype and excitement surrounding the Gossip Girl brand.
Here’s how the game works: you log into Facebook, you search for a group called Gossip Girl: Social Climbing, and you sign up (In doing so, you must allow the Ap to access your Facebook account, which automatically generates Gossip Girl invitations to all your Facebook friends and family – sorry, guys). Once you’re in the Matrix – I mean, the Gossip Girl world – you’re assigned a Gossip Girl nickname, and you’re sent on scandalous missions which you must complete in order to climb Manhattan’s social ladder.
As rewards, gamers get invites to virtual fashion shows, sample sales, and club openings where their avatars can party with all their favorite characters from the show. And – as in real life – you can pay your way to the top: extra points are awarded when you purchase in-game items.
On the one hand, I think the game is a ridiculous waste of time, but this reflects my no-nonsense work ethic. Can games actually teach us anything? According to game designer and researcher Dr. Jane McGonigal, my negative attitude towards gaming is a common misconception. In her new book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, McGonigal argues that playing video games can teach us valuable life lessons.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert on the popular TV show The Colbert Report, McGonigal argues that when we play games, we’re tapping into our best qualities, “our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, collaborate. with others, to be resilient in the face of failure.” McGonigal claims her research finds that “the emotions we feel in games actually spill over to our real life.” She gives the example of playing a game with a confident avatar for only ninety seconds, and says this small amount of game time affects the player’s confidence in the real world for 24 hours.
Thursday night, I found myself covering an upscale event for a Toronto-based women’s magazine. The venue: a swanky cocktail party on the seventh floor of some fancy hotel – just the setting you’d find your avatar in Gossip Girl. All the Toronto social elites were there, and at one point in the evening, I found myself thinking: No one’s ever taught me how to mingle with social elites. There I was, daiquiri in hand, thinking there should be some kind of formal training on this!
In the days of the aristocracy, young girls would be sent to finishing school to learn social etiquette. In more recent years, private groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution trained the next generation of socialites. In the digital age, perhaps social media fulfills this role. If Gossip Girl: Climbing the Social Ladder teaches young girls anything, it teaches them how to succeed in a materialistic and superficial world, a world (unfortunately) not so different from the real one. Maybe Facebook is just training the next generation of social elites – or at the very least, they’re simulating the process for a bunch of voyeur gamers who didn’t get invited to the party.