The Game Developers Conference (GDC) held an interesting panel yesterday entitled “A Debate: Are Social Games Legitimate.” This topic is exactly on point with a conversation I had with my brother Jonathan and Mike Awful recently. I was pondering, how is it that so many people are lured by the incredibly simplistic and often repetitive click-behaviors of social games? A longing for simplicity and distraction in a world where most games are driven by ever increasing realism and complexity? A sense of social accomplishment that is so hard to find in our normal framework of specialization and independence? Maybe.
Jonathan’s take: “It’s more evidence that the network and the marketers behind the network seek to control individuals and their behavior. Every click is seen as value in a production chain. Users don’t control those games it’s the other way around.” I felt a bit skeptical of his perspective, but Jonathan has seen (and been part of) some interesting product design trends while he worked as a lead designer at Frog Design. So the comment stuck when hearing the experts at GDC talk about this same topic.
The GDC panel included social game developers as well as academics and industry experts and was moderated by Margaret Robertson of Hide&Seek. Surprisingly, the panel was taking an honest look inwards to discuss the dangers, social issues, and future of social gaming. At one point, Ian Bogost, claimed that Facebook to friendship may be similar to what corporate agriculture is doing to cheap sweeteners. In his analogy, people are the corn that changed into industrial value, with the end product being a shallow (and bad for you) product. After all, chaining users to their PC to click-away at social apps may feel good, but I’m pretty sure the experience if fairly hollow and not so good for you.
It was a great panel, and illuminates the need for important social discussion that explores emerging technologies and their impacts. I’d like to think this same conversation is already underway in the immersive visualization space where the stakes are potentially much higher. As the vision of VR is realized, the ability (and economically driven desire by companies) to deliver a rich experience will determine if advanced displays will augment our lives or simply distract us.
What do other people think about this topic?