The image of gamers is changing, slowly, and this is largely due to social networking sites. The stereotype of pasty mal-exercised social outcasts gaming for 20 hours-a-day in their mothers’ basement is being replaced by that of “normal” people from a variety of backgrounds, social groups and cultures who do their gaming on sites like Facebook, making gaming more mainstream; so, as a lifelong gamer, why am I afraid to play FarmVille?
Statistics show that social gaming is massive; FarmVille, the game that arguably started the social gaming revolution, has 52 million active users at present. This is dwarfed by the new hot title, CityVille, which has a whopping 98 million active users. To put this into context, that’s more than the population of the United Kingdom. So if gaming has become socially acceptable, as indicated by the sheer numbers of people gaming on one particular application on just one – albeit mammoth – website, should hardcore gamers feel a pang of shame for indulging in these pursuits?
I am a gamer; I have been since the early 1980s. I have owned an Atari 2600, a Commodore 64, a ZX Spectrum, an Amiga 500, a Microsoft PC, a Sega Master System and Mega Drive, a Gameboy, PlayStations 1 & 2, a PSP, an Xbox and a 360 in my gaming career. I have sampled most game genres and rank Real Time Strategy games highly. As one who has witnessed the evolution of video games over the past 3 decades I feel I should embrace the move toward social games, many of which are RTS based that I should enjoy. I speak here of FarmVille, although in reality I’d be more likely to play games like Kingdoms of Camelot or Mafia Wars, but their presence on such a widely used social network puts me off. My reasoning may be debatable, but it’s as follows: I don’t like the idea of everybody on my “friends” list, which includes work colleagues and people on the peripheral of my social circle, being updated every time I sew a field or request help to build a barn. The very nature of social gaming requires this sort of interaction with other users, but having been on the receiving end of countless requests to help others in their gaming efforts, and having been annoyed by the persistence of them despite my not having the same application, I am loathed to inflict this upon my “friends”. It’s the carpet-bombing nature of the applications’ update messages coupled with the lack of customisable privacy options with which I have an issue.
An immediate retort to this would be to say that the option exists within Facebook to ignore all such notifications, however, not everyone chooses to click on this option. This may be because they are happy to receive them, or eager to involve themselves in the game, but what if they’re not? It is entirely possible that people can simply skip through the endless updates spewed out by these applications and, although it could be argued that it is their choice not to get rid of them, I wouldn’t want everyone to see these updates generated by my gaming. I’m not alone in my frustration; an entire anti-FarmVille movement exists within Facebook, born of just this sort of complaint, sporting over 2 million disgruntled users.
For me, collaborative gaming should be about people who want to game together working toward a common goal. If users don’t want to be involved, or don’t have the application, then the system shouldn’t bother them with updates or requests. However, as Facebook and social networks like it have a mandate to expand, it’s not likely that social gaming will move into a less intrusive format any time soon.
I’m sure there are many very worthy games to play in the social gaming genre, but until the scope of who is informed of and involved in my gaming is more tightly controlled it will remain an area of the gaming world that I’ll avoid. I don’t play games on Facebook partly because of the privacy issue and partly due to a reluctance to have my pastimes scrutinised by everyone connected with my social media accounts. I don’t want everyone I know to see what I’m playing and how often I play it; for me, that privilege is reserved for those friends I game with on Xbox LIVE.