Thu
Aug 14 2008 1:31am

Prologue to Comments on Facebook Games

Strictly speaking this is pushing the boundaries of my bailiwick, but...

A while back I signed up for Facebook, but did nothing with it. Today I set aside some time to start learning more about it and maybe actually using it, so as to be set up to look at Facebook-based gaming. Patrick's post about aging fandom really struck home with me. I had to get younger friends to explain a lot of what I was looking at. It wasn’t just “oh, this is how I go about doing this familiar task” but “what can I do?” and “why do I want to do that?” and so on—new ends and means, both.

So I feel sympathetic to my fellow aging readers, for whom the new stuff may simply not (as some Quakers put it) speak to their condition. And I certainly feel a fresh grasp of how the changes in sf/f/h in the ’60s and ’70s must have felt to folks who were then the age I am now. This isn’t a simple feeling of decay—it’s not like watching a loved group or institution slide down into pure mediocrity or, worse, active evil from my moral perspective. I can see the richness, potential and actual, in this kind of social networking tool, as I can in some kinds of new genre fiction. It’s just that it really is different, and while I want to get acculturated, it’s going to take time, with me no longer the rapid learner I once was.

10 comments
Chuk Goodin
1. Chuk
When I read "Quakers", I thought you were talking about people who play Quake. Maybe that's an age thing, too.

I am in my late thirties and while I do think there is some reduction in quality in mass-media SF, I also realize that some of it is just stuff that I don't "get". I hope it never comes to pass that all of it falls into that category...
rick gregory
2. rickg
it's not just that it's new.... it's that it embodies different priorities, some of which will not be important to 40+ year olds. I rarely go on FB anymore because I get inundated with vampire bites, various silly gifts, Karma requests etc. For a while, these are amusing. But after a while, they're just fancy spam.

For me, there's no countervailing usefulness. People with most of their friends on FB can and do use it to organize events, as a central information hub, to casually keep in touch, etc. But unless you have a significant number of friends there a lot of the stuff that's useful can't happen and you're left with the application spam.

I'm reminded of friends and I used to organize our parties via the phone... then a few of us got email. Now it's second nature for all of us (most in our late 40s and early 50s) to use web-based tools to communicate. Younger people (15-30 say) have always had those tools so using them was natural from the start. Their friends didn't have to be persuaded to buy computers for them etc... they were already there. To not have IM, Facebook, etc would be as silly to them as not having a phone would have been to my generation.

And of course Facebook will be hopelessly passé in 20 years and the generation that sneers at those of us who are older will be older themselves and THEIR kids will be doing the sneering. Ah, life...
Sam Kelly
3. Eithin
It isn't just that the future is coming, the future is Over There. And there's always more future to deal with, for all of us.

It seems to be about increasing granularity, about more and more microgaming and casual gaming, and most of all about blurring the divide between the game-world and the real world - a lot of the social-networking games or pseudogames work very hard at this. I haven't looked at The Venice Chronicles since it was in early beta, but that was a case in point.
Debbie Moorhouse
4. GUDsqrl
I think for me part of the problem with "new" SF is so much of it isn't new. At least, not new to me--I've seen those ideas before. And those ones. Oh, and that one!
Bruce Baugh
5. BruceB
GUDsqrl: I see that to some extent, but it doesn't bother me for two reasons. First, I don't see a lot of writers actually claiming in any obvious way that their ideas are all new. Second, I'm much less interested in ideas as such than in stories. I care about characters and worlds and events and imagery and narrative voice and plot structure and stuff like that, and I see younger writers coming up with fresh stuff involving all of those, regularly.

Chuk: Now I've got this vision of first-person non-shooters. I blame you + flu medication.

Rickg: That's a good point. "Priorities" is indeed a key thing here.

Eithin: In my experience, waves of differentation are followed by waves of re-consolidation. It's tidal.
Debbie Moorhouse
6. GUDsqrl
No, it isn't a case of writers claiming their ideas are new (altho' I do see some of that), as seeing the start of a story and knowing how it'll play out. The best stories of course don't take you where you're expecting to go. I hate to be two pages into a novel and thinking, "oh yeah, this will happen, then this, then that....".
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7. heresiarch
As a certified young 'un, let me weigh in: Facebook games suck. It always comes down to the same basic mechanic: get more friends to join in order to win. They're all glorified pyramid schemes, designed to suck in wave after wave of fresh ad-views. None of them (at least none of them I've ever played) has an interesting mechanic, none of them have any skill component, none of them tell a story, and so none of them leave me anything other than frustrated.

Some specific problems:

-Anyone can attack anyone of the same level, and only of the same level. Given the huge user base, this is necessary to keep newbies from getting utterly whaled upon by the early joiners, but it also makes leveling up pointless--you're always fighting people of the exact same strength. The only difference is

-People you invite to join are resources. Since the whole point is to attract new players, getting your friends to play is a key part of play, and usually makes the difference between being competitive and being a punchingbag. If player X is level 10 and has ten friends in their group, and player Y is also level 10 but only has four friends, player X will always win. Combined with the above, people with a lot of friends dominate at every level.

-The game is always running. Unlike Bejeweled, FB games are always active. Unlike WOW, you can always be attacked. This means that getting busy in the real world can really screw you up--I can't count the number of times I've come back to the computer to find myself dead or robbed blind.

-Actions recharge/execute in realtime. Usually, play happens at a steady rate throughout the day. If you don't use your time wisely, you'll fall behind optimum. This means that you have to obsessively check FB every waking hour, but you can never play for more than ten minutes in a row.

All of these factors add up to create games that leave me frustrated and angry.
Debbie Moorhouse
8. GUDsqrl
Hmm. Personally I only play Word Twist on FB on a regular basis, at which I get regularly whaled on by my friend in Australia.

However, most of what I see on FB is all about gaining resources (of whatever kind) by adding more and more 'friends'. It's almost unceasingly cynical in that respect.
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9. heresiarch
I should say--the bulk of FB-specific games are like what I described. However, Scrabulous is awesome.
Debbie Moorhouse
10. GUDsqrl
Scrabulous is beautifully put together, for sure.

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