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Is Cow Clicker a Travesty?
by Ian Bogost on 08/14/10 10:14:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


(cross-posted from

What is Cow Clicker? Is it a satire? Yes, but it's more complicated than that: it's also a real game that people can (and as it would seem, many thousands do) play "in earnest." That's caused a number of people to ask if it ought to be taken seriously as satire.

We tend to throw around words like "satire" and "parody," and it's worth remembering that these words have somewhat more specific meanings; they're not just synonyms, even though their uses have changed over time.

Satire is a general name for a work that intends to ridicule, and in that respect Cow Clicker certainly qualifies. But satire also carries a moral tenor that parody doesn't. Parodists often mock what they know well and even love, whereas satirists often perpetrate their work with an eye toward reform of some kind, characterizing the object of the satire as morally inferior. In this sense, a Facebook game like Pot Farm is more parody, while Cow Clicker is more satire.

But there are two other, less frequently discussed types of satire that might also apply.

The first is burlesque. We usually think of burlesque as a kind of variety show often associated with the striptease, but the term has a more general meaning too: a work, usually of musical theater, in which both serious and comic elements are juxtaposed or swapped for one another. In its more modern sense, burlesque derives its lewdness from a desire to turn flip social norms on their heads.

Cow Clicker could be seen to have some burlesque features, particularly through its clear deployment of irony (by making the act of clicking a cow, the fundamental unit of gameplay in these awful cow clicker games, an absurdist act instead of an earnest one).

Still, the amount of exaggeration in burlesque is typically far greater than the (relatively subtle) embellishment of Cow Clicker. On top of that, burlesque often mocks the aristocracy (or high culture in general), and in that respect FarmVille might not be a legitimate candidate.

The second is travesty. This is a term whose depths most have forgotten. People often use the term as a synonym for "distortion" or "perversion" (e.g., "The lenient treatment of incarcerated celebrities is a travesty of the judicial system"), but the word also refers to a representation of such perversion.

It is a name for a treatment of a dignified subject in a trivial, grotesque, or absurd way. In travesty, the original format and subject isn't changed much, but is turned into ridicule through incongruity. The commonest example of travesty is the comic retelling of the Pyramus and Thisbe myth in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and many other theatrical examples exist.

Now, it's true that the subject Cow Clicker mocks (Facebook games of the FarmVille ilk) isn't usually described as "dignified." Certainly FarmVille isn't dignified in the sense that, say, Virgil is. But games of that nature have been treated with dignity almost exclusively in popular press accounts of the "rise of social games," through citations of revenue or player numbers in particular. In that respect, Cow Clicker might best be described as a travesty of Facebook games, rather than a mere satire of them.

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Michael Curtiss
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edit: ah, i see.

Robert Anderson
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Being a lover of all things satirical I had a very fun ( yet brief ) time playing Cow Clicker.

I would like to think of the game as also being somewhat subversive. Not in any malicious sense mind you.

Whether or not those that continue to play do so from a joy of satire or simply like clicking the cow, time will tell.

I applaud your game and the reasons you decided to make it. I think there needs to be more satire in the world. Through satire we get to see things from a different perspective and that in itself is reason enough for me.

Brandon Sheffield
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ian, fyi the cow clicker url provided doesn't work.

Ian Bogost
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brandon, thanks. fixed.

Dan Felder
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I think that Cow Clicker stripped the glorification and bells and whistles away to show us what current Facebook games are at the core. Since it was created to assist its creator in a presentation, that makes a great deal of sense to be. This makes fun of Facebook games by being truthful, while simultaneously proving just how effective those mechanics can be.

Is this satire? Travesty? Or perhaps a three-headed monkey? Maybe, maybe not... But I think we can all agree that it's certainly thought-provoking!

-Dan Felder, WhyGames Consulting

Dylan Woodbury
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I think its satire if you designed it with that in mind.

For example, Zynga made another game with the same formula, fronteirville, but without the intention of making fun of itself. Cow Clicker is satirical, in my opinion, due to what you snuck in on purpose: spending money for a different arrangement of pixels on an avatar, etc.

A thought, are there any other satirical games out there? If not, I'd call up Guinness.

Jason Fleischman
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Another satirical game that comes to mind is "You have to burn the rope". SPOILER ALERT: you have to burn the rope

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Christopher Landry
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Travesty or no, Cow Clicker is still a social networking game, and guilty - by design - of everything you say you hate about them: viral marketing, wasting people's time, and feeding off of compulsion for the sake of a few bucks / seconds of fame.

Would you say the experience has changed your opinion on social game developers? Or is this a case of the ends (satire) justifying the means?

mic Arnesen
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Sounds like a fun entertainment, thanks for sharing your writing:)



Ian Bogost
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Christopher, I'd humbly request that you read the article I wrote about the game linked at top, which contains many of my answers to your questions.