Online Gaming

Hello, my name is Gary, and I used to be addicted to social games.

Yes, I was the guy whose facebook wall would be littered with requests to come feed my cows.  And you might have gotten a message or two from me begging for a little help to complete my windmill, or to help me win a war against my mafia enemies.   But a few months ago, I pulled the plug on my booming frontiertown, and I haven’t been back since.  In this blog, I will talk about how I got into online games, and then how I finally decided to be done with them.

A few years ago, I started noticing posts from my friends;  “Billy is looking for the ace of diamonds”  Now, Billy was a friend of mine, and he sounded like he needed my help.  Actually, it wasn’t that simple, but I noticed a lot of my friends were playing mafia wars, and it looked like fun, so I went ahead and joined in.  The game itself was very simple.  You have a certain amount of energy, and by spending some of that energy, you can complete tasks.  Tasks gives you experience, sometimes an item, and it also moves you closer to mastering that task.  What happens when you master that task?  You move onto the next one.   And that’s pretty much it.  The graphics aren’t spectacular, the mini games are only mildly interesting, and they aren’t going to roll up in your driveway with a truckload of cash if you beat the game.  Even if they did, Snoop Dogg would probably get in the way at the last minute anyway.

So what about the game is so appealing?  You do have some social interaction with your friends.  You can share items with them, and give them boosts to speed up their progress through the game.  So as an internet time killer, I suppose there are worse things you can do.  I also love the statistics.  So I liked seeing my rankings compared to my friends, and see how they change as I spent more time on the game.  There’s something innately addictive about reaching the next level, about having goals to accomplish, and then going ahead and meeting them.  Even if this goal is worthless in real life.  I actually want to see something like this in school.  Kids love instant feedback, rankings, and short and long term goals.  “You’ve done your homework 5 days in a row and unlocked this accomplishment”  Something like that.  Although you can’t exactly compare the “trophies” that different kids have won, and go around telling them they are a level 5 sophomore, and just need one more 90 on a test to reach level 6.  Still, I think there must be a way of doing something like this.  Millions of people play social games, and find them very addicting, despite the fact that not much happens.  There has to be a way for schools and even adult workplaces to capitalize on the underlying mechanisms that make online gaming fun.

The games start off free, and for me, it was a pretty good way to shut down my brain for a bit when I got done with a long day at work.  The games don’t require any great skill, just time.  So I found them to be a good way to relax.   Of course, if you want to get the best equipment, or boosts that let you play the game faster, you need to buy credits to make this happen.  And that involves actual cash.   And I did do this on a few occasions.  It’s pretty easy to rationalize.  A new PS 3 game is 60 bucks, a night at the movies is 20.  So what’s spending 20 bucks on a supposedly free game, that I’m spending hours a week on anyway?  Even if I did buy myself a 20 dollar game card every year for Christmas, the cost per hour of entertainment was still really low.   But there are other costs too.

Time is valuable.  And even on my busier days, I felt the need to check up on my online games at least once, usually twice a day.  I didn’t want to miss a day and fall behind.  And then there’s those requests.   Make no mistake about it, I am and was aware of how annoying all of those requests were, and how obnoxious it was to have a wall full of nothing but game stories.  And actually, it is pretty easy to make it so these game requests aren’t visible to you.  But it’s also pretty easy to unfriend someone, and I’m sure I lost an actual friend or two because of this.

On the other side, you need to be friends with people who play the game in order to play the game better.  For mafia wars, you needed 500 people to have a maximum sized mafia.  I don’t have that many actual friends, and certainly not that many who played the game.  So I found myself adding people specifically to have them in my mafia.  The best way to do this was by adding friends of friends, but I also did this by adding people from the games website.  Sometimes you would add people, and then find out that they actually don’t play the game.  So why did they want to be on your friends list?  That’s probably not good.   By the end, I had more friends who were gamers, than people I actually knew in real life.

From Mafia Wars, I got into Frontierville.  FrontierVille was a more fun game, where things actually happen on the screen, and you can interact with things.  There’s a few other games I added when they first came out.  Frontierville was more fun, but more annoying as well.  You needed a massive amount of help from your friends, and there was only so much help you could give your friends on any given day.  Giving and getting the help you needed became an issue, even for someone who spent as much time as I did  playing.   And once you fall behind, forget about it.  Very few people are going to give you any help at all if you aren’t on the most recent missions, and missions were being added very quickly.  Sometimes the game didn’t work at all.

So gradually I became more and more frustrated.  Walking away wasn’t all that hard either.  Which I found surprising considering how much time I spent on the games.  One day I played, and the next I decided I would not.  Never went back either.  And haven’t really felt any desire too.  In the long run, playing the game was cheaper than buying actual video games, or going out to the movies for entertainment, so I can’t totally regret ever playing them.  And I still think there must be a way for these games to be made more fun, and less obnoxious to people as well.   Anyone else have an experience with these social games?  Share in the comments.

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About garybraham

I grew up in Mahopac NY, studied geology at Colgate University. I've moved to Queensbury NY to teach HS earth science. I also coach soccer and wrestling, take pictures at local sporting events, and am the Scoutmaster for the Glens Falls ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My wife and I will be married 5 years this October, and we have a two and a half year old little girl.
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