Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Assisting gently or biting viciously?

I am playing two games on Facebook currently - I am part of too many for me to keep track of, but two are currently sufficiently intriguing to keep me playing. Both are fairly simple games where I do things with, to or for my facebook friends. One is Vampires. I am a vampire who can fight friends or attack random "npcs" by questing, but I can also feed non-vampire friends to my vampire friends. It's in many ways a quite satisfying game, not because of the mechanics, but due to the fiction. The game is mainly a matter of clicking and waiting for the response from the website, which informs me whether the dice rolled for or against me this time. The quests are a matter of clicking somewhere else, and see if I get one of the items which I can get randomly, or just the regular points and currency. It's actually an extremely boring game, way below solitaire. But it has two highlights. I can taunt my friends when they lose, and I can sacrifice random people to have them mauled by friends.

So, do you have a facebook friend you don't really like? Is one of your friends the boss of one of your other friends (who happens to be a vampire)? Did somebody just write the scholarly article you always wanted to write? Or do they just deserve some pain on principle? Vampires lets you take it all out on the more-or-less innocent, and you don't have to let them know they have been sacrificed. It's not a game you play with people you don't feel comfortable with, though. They have to be able to endure a beating - at least a fantasy-beating. The language is aggressive, funny and rough, and sometimes I wonder if the pleasure of playing Vampires is the same pleasure as swearing - a verbal release of emotion that can have no physical outlet.

The other game I play these days is Farmtown. This is a game where people are nice to each other, and by being nice, all gain. If you share, you get more than if you play solo, and the things you can give (and get) as gifts from your friends, are often locked to you for several levels if you want to buy them to your own farm. This means that if you want to flaunt anything, you need friends, and you need to treat them well enough that they want to share with you. Now, as all know this, the treshold for friendly behaviour is very low.

The Farmtown fiction is very satisfying in a different way. I feel like I am producing something worthwhile - or, at least, I get depressed when my harvest goes bad because I have been too lazy about the game. Also, I get to gather wealth and display it according to the dream of having a little house in the countryside. I have rows and rows of fruit trees, flowers blooming in odd places, and a small brown farmhouse that I am planning to upgrade to a white one. In a few levels I'll have rivers and bridges, and benches under the fruit trees, but currently I am restricting the decorations as I am playing for money for expansion and decoration. And I love it when people point out that I have planted in a pretty-looking way. I admire the intricate fields of some of the people I "work" for, harvesting in meandering patterns as the field is planted with plants that grow at different speeds and bloom in different colours. I particularly like the development of watermelons, and I can't wait to have peppers.

But people get their game-face on in nice little Farm Town too. Cheats and walkthroughs exist, to help you level faster. I tend to read these, but I don't think I want to, this time. I want to live in the fantasy of the hard-working farmer producing food and values out of the soil of the land. It lets me live with the knowledge that my real-life farming friends actually get their hands dirty and see results from it. Then I can go write another article about the importance of rules and affordances for ingame interaction.

Bite me.

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