Since I linked to it the other day and since I am filling my wall with posts on it, I thought I’d draw more attention to Ian Bogost’s brilliant distillation of social games called Cow Clicker and his subsequent explanation of the inspiration for it on his blog.
In short: you click on a cow to get points. Why do you need points? Well… you can compare with your friends! And you can buy cutely named Mooney to get different cow types!
I was talking to my fiancee yesterday who is a huge user of all these social game doodads and she was distressed that her dog in Farmville had ran away because she wasn’t there to click on it or feed it or whatever you do in that game these days. Cow Clicker is very lax in that particular interpretation of the “Social” Dogma. If you don’t click your cow, nothing bad happens to you, which is one of the key psychological footholds of the genre. You don’t lose anything and you don’t let your friends down. It’s the sense of obligation, of slavery to these mindless activities that makes me find Facebook games so insidious, especially after having worked on one. Not only are your friends not human beings but resources, but conversely you are a cog in their machine. It’s surprising for me to say that Cow Clicker isn’t insidious enough. Maybe that is the point? Maybe because we expect it to be more insidious that just shows how miserable the state of affairs truly is?
Cow Clicker is more interesting satire than, say, Progress Quest simply because instead of making a statement that looks like the antecedent (as in the latter), it attempts to fully emulate its target and strip it down enough that its internals show but not so bare that it fails to emulate the same mechanics and dynamics.
Whatever this school of design is that eschews the fuck-the-users mentality, it needs a name and a little badge that I can put on my profile and level up.