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The Clickness Unto Death
by Ian Bogost on 06/21/11 12:06:00 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.


This is hard to explain. Something's happening to Cow Clicker.

Some months ago, evil bovine lords broke into Cow Clicker and started making demands. Their mysterious clues became the Cow ClickARG, which, Inception-like, sent up Alternate Reality Games from within the send-up of a Facebook game. Clues were scattered by the "bovine gods" around the globe, where "cowllective intelligence" helped solve the mystery.

The result was the following message, which my most able clickers quickly decoded:

The cowpocalyse cometh, revealing its methane time-bomb. The bovine evildoers have initially set the moo-msday date to 21 July, which just happens to be Cow Clicker's birthday, and one month from today. But a dark udder hangs overhead: for every cow that is clicked by anyone in the game, thirty seconds are removed from the cowntdown timer. If it elapses, the entire clicking center will shut down. As I told my clickers, we are in a battle with and against our very pointers.

Yet the bovine gods, ever jealous and greedy, have opened the door to a solution, but it is a solution out of my hands:

But perhaps you can stop them by paying supplication to the ruminant gods. If your oblation is deemed worthy by the fractious bovinity, then time will be added to the doomsday clock, staving off the cowpocalypse... for now.

Bovine supplication involves... paying Facebook Credits as sacrifice!

So now the fate of Cow Clicker is in the hands of its players. Either the timer will elapse and it will meet its doom, or they will choose to supplicate to the bovinity, staying enough clicks ahead of themselves to keep the game running, perhaps perpetually. Or, perhaps yet another possible fate still awaits Cow Clicker...

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Alexander Jhin
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Um, I may be missing something from the ARG, but at what point does satirically asking for money (for no good reason) cross the line into being equivalent to commercial game companies asking for money? If all the proceeds were, say, donated to charity this would be awesome! But instead, we're asked to "sacrifice" with only some dangling cliff hanger to look forward to.

Bogost should be able to make money, but it certainly hurts his satirical, outsider cred when he engages some of the very activities he's satirizing. It'd be like Jon Stewart running for political office -- I wouldn't be against it, but he could no longer be a valuable, truth telling outsider.

Christopher Enderle
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I think transparency and motivation are the key elements of the "line." A commercial game company wouldn't make a game self terminating if it was profitable, but Ian's trying to make a point and he's not really hiding what that point is.

It's pretty interesting to see the gauntlet thrown down. If this fails, what will Ian try next? Who will tire first? Ian in trying to make a point, or the compulsive cow clickers?

Eric McQuiggan
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I would say it's closer to Steven Colbert running for office. I wonder how that would turn out.

Why is it the responsibility of the satirist to avoid being cynical about how their money is collected? At least their target market is in on the joke.

Alexander Jhin
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@Christopher and Eric -- I suppose you're right -- the audience is smart and in on the joke. Spending money on something as obviously pointless as Cow Clicker is a form of performance art in itself. And we don't know Bogost's end game, which he hints at.

However, I don't know that I agree with what I imagine is Bogost's message. I've spent Facebook dollars on Facebook games I play a lot, not because I want the boosts to my gameplay, but as a way of supporting companies that make good games.

Additionally, I get the feeling that people will pay for Cow Clicker for similar reasons -- as a vote of support for a clever idea. "Vote with your wallets!"

If people are supporting Cow Clicker out of a desire to support satirical art, it negates the satirical idea of people spending money on nothing -- people are spending in support of satire itself.

Anyway, I don't really get it.

Ian Bogost
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I'm glad you brought up Jon Stewart, because it's a great example to use in response. It's not like Stewart running for political office, it's more like Stewart (and/or Comedy Central) making money for providing comedic material to their viewers.

I'm pretty sure I've discussed it elsewhere (I can't remember where; I'll look), but I see no inconsistency between profit and satire.

All this assumes I'm even making money in the first place. What do you think? :)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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How much money has this made, if I may ask? Barring that, a ballpark would be great. Barring that, a confirmation of > $0USD would be swell too.

Ian Bogost
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> $0USD confirmed! But, not enough to buy a Fiat 500 or anything.

Alexander Jhin
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With traditional static media, the consumers get to feel superior as they watch the satirists eviscerate their targets. With interactive satire, we stand the risk of becoming the targets ourselves -- and the situation is no longer as comfortable.

Making fun of someone who victimizes others is one thing. Victimizing others to make fun of victimization is little bit harder to take.

But I think the hurtfulness of games satirizing us depends on the level of duplicity. A game like Brathwaite's "Train" relies heavily on duplicity. Newsgaming's September 12th relies on a little duplicity, while Bogost's is completely open -- players voluntarily give money and they know exactly what they're going to receive -- in that way, they are volunteers not victims.

Regardless, interactive arts can be a powerful way of shining an uncomfortable reflection on ourselves -- it's just a question of how much people will let themselves be satirized. (Honestly, how many people would voluntarily go to a comedy club if they KNEW they were going to be singled out and made fun of the by comedian?)

Jacek Wesolowski
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So, you're doing this ironically, of course. And so are your players. But the result, regardless of what it is, is going to be interpreted non-ironically, isn't it?

I mean, there are a several theories you could be testing:

- that people are willing to pay real money for a stupid privilege to click a silly cartoon cow,

- that a community will form around the "common good" of having the game go on,

- that a social dynamic will emerge from the fact that time is a common resource that someone has to replenish but everyone wants to use up,

- etc.

But all these are rendered moot, because anything that players do at this point they may be doing because they're taking part in a social-game-themed joke.

Ian Bogost
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Actually, the hipster ironist players are mostly long gone. The ones that remain are, for better or worse, really playing! Which is even weirder!

Ted Spence
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Whether the game continues to keep itself afloat or not, this was an amazing little research project. I loved the concept of a social networking game boiled down to the key essentials, and frankly it was fun while I played!

Ian Bogost
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Thanks Ted!

Joe McGinn
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I think it's brilliant personally. I've no patience for truly exploitative games like Smurf Village (especially when they're aimed at children) but anyone who takes this seriously and spends the money surely deserves their fate?

Altug Isigan
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cash cow?

Glenn Storm
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This is awesome! What charity is this going toward?

Child's Play? Electronic Frontier Foundation? Click for a Change? Games that Give?



Bully for you, Ian. ;)

Ian Bogost
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It's too bad so few of you can see the intrigue and the satire in the prank the game is playing on payment methods (it's pretty clear), and that so many of you think I'm somehow getting rich (I'm not), and that so many of you think that critique and profit are incompatible anyway (they aren't).

But it's so fun to be an asshole on the Internet, isn't it?

Laurie Cheers
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Kudos, Ian.

Haters gonna hate.

Glenn Storm
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_oops, that failed_

if I can try that again:

"Bully" was an irresistible pun at the time,

";)" was my only clue that this was irony,

I do support devs making money on their creations.

Please accept my sincere apologies. It was a poor joke that should be considered withdrawn. :(

Mark Hankins
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Do notify us of your findings on moo-msday!

I am highly intrigued... and whether or not you intend to give the money to charity, don't tell anyone! It will skew your ever so interesting findings. :(

David Fried
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Hehehe... It's War Games.

The only way to win is not to play.