This is interesting. Videogame critic Ian Bogost has distilled the social Facebook game to its banal essentials: you can click your cow once every six hours, as well as your friends' cows, and you can purchase the ability to click faster.
That's pretty much it. Cow Clicker is satire written in the same language as its subject, the social videogame. One small problem.
The game is actually popular, so his message is amiss. It's as if by warning us about becoming mindless automatons, he's accidentally proved we are mindless automatons. And it's done by watching us interact with his very theorem.
Unlike those "There Is Love In The World" games like Ico and Blueberry Garden, or the silly "Surprise! You're the bad guy!" games like Shadow of the Colossus or Brenda Brathwaithe's Train, Bogost's work shows us something about ourselves that we would rather not be true, while we take part in making it true using the very same medium and work that he does. You can't take part in a painting or a book, so, how's that for a videogame as art?
I find myself looking again at the latest Castlevania game, Harmony Of Despair. I know jump and whip-snap aren't more complicated than Facebook's offerings. They add only a bit of coordination to the mix.
So when Brathwaithe says she's puzzled by the acrimony between social and traditional videogame developers, I both agree and disagree. The original Castlevania's mechanics were state-of-the-art upon its release -- I'm running on nostalgia's fumes here -- while Facebook games eschew technical sophistication except in keeping the servers humming and the peeps returning.
There's something mercenary in the latter which I don't like either as an industry enthusiast or as a potential victim. At least each Castlevania has, like books and card games, a distinct end.