Social Games Without Social Responsibility?

Saw this article on twitter and indiegamer about social responsibility – Cultivated Play: Farmville.

A section from that article:

The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness.[11] We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.

What’s your take on this?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. People play Farmville not mainly because they have social reasons to do so, but because they are bored and on Facebook.

    I love it when academic-minded people get angry at “stupid” ideas and speak out against them. Instead of criticizing Farmville, it behooves a game developer to study its success, and it behooves an online sociologist to study its effects.

    Calling something “immoral” has become popular ever since Jonathan Blow declared MMORPG gameplay “immoral.” I do not really see this label as accurate. The moral system that exists in the physical world does not apply online.

    Perhaps we should restart the discussion by establishing what gamers are looking to find within games. If they receive what they were looking for, I do not see the design as immoral at all. This is the case for Farmville.

    I largely agree with most comments above… Thanks for the post!

  2. I think there’s couple of things which I don’t like in Farmville:

    1) The issue with Farmville was/is that there were some sort of scammy ads that tricked people into subscribing stuff they don’t want.
    (Not sure if those are really removed and all is good)

    2) They show no common sense – some kid ordered $1300 whatnot worth farmville crap without parents knowing. Okay, should parents know better? Yes, but still it would show good will from Zynga to handle the issue better than letting the mom end up in debt:

    3) The game is crap. But that’s fine. Not all games need to be such that I like them. This is merely a personal opinion that it’s crap. I’d rather eat nails than play the game.

    3.5) As an opposite (thing I like), I really must give Zynga a credit for being an excellent example on how to make tons of Donuts with such a cloned game in such a competitive area. I think for this, Zynga people are just geniuses.

    4) The author of that article indeed makes some good points, but like I said at the indiegamer, it really disturbs me that people are sheep who do shit without using their own brain.

    As for “long term effects for society”. Well, when books/tv/video games were first introduced, they were definitely considered harmful for the people. I guess same goes for social platform games too.

  3. That article starts really strong, then it gets kind of stupid at the end, in my opinion. It is good to point out that a lot of the compulsion to play a game like Farmville is from social obligation. I think it would make a better point to show that if people have to disregard social obligation in order to get out of the game, that could be harmful in the long run. On the other hand, social obligation has been exploited for a long time. Ever notice how the car salesperson offers you something to drink? That’s an attempt to create social obligation so that you are more likely to agree to a deal favorable to the dealer.

    I also get tired of people trying to turn something that’s pretty typical for game play into something suspicious: “In other words, the more you play Farmville the less you have to play Farmville. For such a popular game, this seems suspicious.” Except that this is pretty common in a lot of games. Sports atheletes can enter “the zone” where their actions become almost automatic. Does this mean that sports are suspicious, since the more you play the less you have to consciously think about decisions?

    Finally, found myself really getting disgusted with the article at the end, where he compares Farmville to Callois’ game criteria. While I agree it fails on some accounts, the author tries too hard to be a completionist. For example, “(5) Farmville is governed not by rules, but by habits, and simple cause-and-effect;” It is governed by rules, even if they’re simple rules. The effects the players cause were created by the designers. Or, “(6) Farmville is not make-believe, in that it requires neither immersion nor suspension of disbelief.” Unless you have to clean dirt from under your fingernails after playing a session of Farmville, it certainly does enter into the realm of make-believe. Strip away the farming metaphor to something abstract and I’d guarantee the game would be a lot less appealling. Sure, after you play you can pierce the metaphor and get to the gameplay optimization, but that’s the nature of just about any game.

    It’s really unfortunate that the article stumbles like this, because I think there are a few really good points. But, the author really gets off track and even introduces some inaccuracies in an attempt to prove that Farmville isn’t “really” a game. Let’s accept that it is a game, but it can be a potentially harmful one for exploiting psychological tricks to get people to play. And, let’s discuss if this will have an negative long-term effects for gaming or even for society as a whole.

  4. It’s partly true, but on the other hands it works only with people that have so much free time to waste every day on FB.
    I removed all friends who were playing farmville. Easier :)

Comments are closed.