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?

About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

1 Comment for this entry

  • Mike Awful
    March 3rd, 2011

    Couldn’t agree more with Jonathan’s take. The market-driven goal of social gaming will be to influence behavior. Some are already explicit with that goal ( Some businesses are piggybacking on existing structures of social gaming: Its not too uncommon for bars to offer drink specials in exchange for “checking in” at their location, and I’m sure that sort of behavior will become increasingly more common. Influencing behavior is the ultimate goal of marketing, right? Social gaming will simply be a more direct path to the same goal.

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