Sorry in advance for the massive post.
I think the assignment of these articles were well timed, especially since we had a reading last week about addictions to social media and technological over-dependence. One of the focuses on last week’s readings was on the emotional response from the individual — there’s no need to feel shamed for fasting from social media or not. Furthermore, this article by Philip Man illuminates how corporations manipulate addictive tendencies to their profitable advantage and for this reason, they cannot be disregarded from assuming partial responsibility for “social media addiction”, no matter what motivations drove the use of game mechanics.
In my opinion, viewing the usage of game mechanics as a business model isn’t anything particularly unique to the last half decade.
This despicable image I found on the internet brings back memories from the years before I learned Adblock existed. Indeed, these ugly banners (that sometimes played their audio out loud without my permission and made browsing the internet a veritable pain) were hyperbolically indicative of a webmaster’s morals (how dare they sell out their virtual real-estate to people trying to get a 14 year old to improve her credit score!).
Of course, over time, as we all matured as savvy surfers of the web, it became easier to ignore these flashy gaudy pixels distracting us from streaming a pirated episode of ANY-television-show-you-can-imagne in peace. But clearly, one reason for their many years of persistence on immature webpages everywhere might be due to their relative success. As viral-ridden as an advertisement might seem, people probably still trust the flashing dialogue box telling them that unless they head to their website to download their “new” and “unrivaled” virus protection software, their browsing prospects were compromised and NSA has already finished violating your privacy in every conceivable way.
Speaking of repackaged and persuasive gaming ideas that pull consumers in by the millions, Flappy Bird was a literal sensation many got to witness as it was unexpectedly removed from the market because the creator, Dong Nguyen, “cannot take this anymore.”
I have to confess that I got this game because my 14-year old sister told me it’d be fun. And fun it was! I won’t lie — trying to get a better score than her drove me to try and try again. The ability to screenshot my results and post them on social media sites to spite others (and then get shamed) perpetuated my furious finger-tapping as I made these dumb primary-colored birds fly between pipes time and time again. There was one reward assigned by the game – bronze, silver, or gold medals – but the social implications of having a better score than someone else grew exponentially. It was an avalanche. After all, the game was so easy, thus it should be easy to outdo my sister, right? And if I couldn’t, then why not practice a bit more?
The Tanz article succinctly provided a great quote on the seemingly magnificent and intangible rewards of games that surpass the game maker’s creation: The fact that people are able to exercise creativity despite the cruel limitations of the game—to craft crayons out of shit—is a sign of the indomitable human spirit but no reflection whatsoever on the merits of Cow Clicker.
This short and interesting article on the fast rise and demise of Flappy Bird offers another perspective on what made the game so addicting to the point where its creator had to terminate his creation. Entertainment with “finite variability” were doomed to lose the traction it gained if the creators stop adding elements of creativity to it (so think how TV series end and how most people won’t really watch it the second time through because it wont’ ever be as good as the first time). This concept also applies to games with fixed story lines. But introduce elements of a community and self-generative creativity, like World of Warcraft – or especially a “sandbox” game like Second Life – and watch it thrive! These latter games have something the author calls “infinite variability.”
In a more general sense, the presence of a community is what makes a habit elevate itself into an addiction. Social media is something difficult to take our eyes away from because our friends provide us our entertainment with their periodic updates on life. Flappy Bird surpassed any expectations one might’ve had for a game so simple and sardonic, but humans are apparently too easily gratified by the knowledge of being better than all the others they know who also waste time “clicking nothing the whole time.”