Farmville Is More Of A Social Obligation Than A Social Game

Earlier this year, A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, an instructor in the Department of Media Study at SUNY Buffalo, gave a fascinating talk honoring American historical writer Howard Zinn and related it to how Farmville represents our inability to think freely or break out of social molds. He talks about how gifting represents a social obligation, and Farmville represents people fitting into cultural norms and thereby getting trapped into the ‘game’.

The talk was meant to describe how Howard Zinn railed against the potential for humans to be lost as cogs in the wheels in the big machines that we create. Instead of making our own decisions, Howard worried that we would accept the roles given to us by economics and culture. He wrote A People’s History Of The United States to represent the history of the populace during the founding of the United States. He talked at length about people being put into positions where they had little control over their own destiny, and when they tried to stand up for it, they were put down.

A.J. interesting transitions this to Farmville and describes how the game is a series of social and cultural obligations that puts us into a position where we are forced to come back. It’s a game where if you wait too long your hard work is wasted and your crops die. It’s a game where you need to have your friends gifting and you need to be gifting to grow. It’s certainly one way of looking at the game, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

The issue that A.J. skirts is the sociability of the game, and that while game play may not be the most rigorous or complex, the absolutely central focus for players of this game is the social element, and this is something shared amongst so many other games or activities. How is a cooperative game different in the sense that various players may have to complete less exciting tasks to support the leader in more fun tasks? A.J. contends that it is the nature of Farmville that nothing is fun, but that’s where he asserts his subjective point of view as fact, and his solid foundation becomes more opinion than fact.

“No doubt some users want to show off their handiwork, and impress and compete with their virtual neighbors. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine seventy-three million people playing a game that isn’t fun to play, just to keep up with the Joneses. After all, we have real life for that sort of thing.”

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. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions.[10] Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.</blockquote>

“Even Zynga’s designers seem well aware that their game is repetitive and shallow. As you advance through Farmville, you begin earning rewards that allow you to play Farmville less. Harvesting machines let you click four squares at once, and barns and coops let you manage groups of animals simultaneously, saving you hundreds of tedious mouse-clicks. In other words, the more you play Farmville the less you have to play Farmville.”

This could easily be applied to any RPG, where you develop tools to more easily dispatch enemies. It’s part of the reward of gaining experience and strength is to expedite that which you already crave. In any case, the read is extremely fascinating and I suggest you read the full transcript of the talk here.