Saturday, May 8, 2010

My game persona is dishonest

I often think about this saying: if we lived in a completely truthful society, we would have no stories.

We would have histories, for certain, but novels, movies, games, comics - everything we watch or read for entertainment would not exist in the form that we know.  There are only so many times you can retell the same series of events without embellishment.  That being the case, I'm a little concerned that the untruthful part of our society is becoming easier to encounter.

It's always been there.  Newspapers and magazines are nothing if not hyperbole.  But with Facebook taking over the social world, and the games that come with that monopoly, I'm noticing a trend, at least in Playfish games.  It's suggested I take from my friends.

In Hotel City, if you visit at certain points, there may be a giant bag of coins sitting in your friend's foyer.  You click on it, and get your bonus for visiting.  If a giant bag of coins were sitting in my foyer, however, I'm pretty sure I'd want it.  Next up: Country Story.  When you visit your friends, you have the option of taking from their crops or trees, 7 times per day.  The tutorial text says, "Go ahead and take some.  Your friend won't mind."  I'm also pretty sure that if you started taking things from your friends in real life, they'd not only notice, but they'd be kind of pissed.  And, of course, Pet Society - when I visit and hug my friends, coins pop out!  Am I taking their wallets?

I'm not naive.  I know this is a device to get people to click on their friends' restaurants/homes/hotels/farms and find new decorations they didn't know existed, thus perpetuating the cycle of buy-grow bored-repeat.  I don't really like being paid to visit my friends but, hey, I do it anyway.  If I got paid to visit my friends in real life, I have no idea what I would think.  Perhaps if it had happened since the beginning of our friendship, it wouldn't seem so strange.  I tutor a boy, and have done for 4 years now, and of course we've become friends during that time.  I help him with his schoolwork, I get money.  Is it really any different?

Well, yes, I think so.  What began as a professional relationship has evolved.  Facebook is turning that around.  It's monetising our social relationships, and putting a value on our time.  In Hotel City, it's also putting a value on our patrons' uninterrupted sleep - click on them while they're sleeping, and you might get 400+ coins.  When they only pay 1 coin to stay the 'night', that becomes a big draw.  Every two minutes you have new people to click on.  But, as a hotel owner, surely I should be making sure my guests get an uninterrupted night's sleep, without me mugging them in the wee hours so I can redecorate the downstairs boudoir.

Ah, the moral dilemma.  Obviously, these games are designed for children, or at least younger players, who go with the mechanics because they're there.  I'm thinking too deeply about it.  But as a writer, I tend to roleplay.  In Hotel City, I'm a successful entrepreneur, running my establishment at the cutting edge of interior decoration.  In Country Story, I'm a compassionate farmer who always makes sure her animals are well-fed and happy.  Nowhere in that self-concept do I see "... who also steals from friends and strangers alike."

And yet I do steal.  I do take from my friends.  I do mug unsuspecting hotel patrons.  Because the game suggests it, because the reward is there, and because there are no consequences.  It's just a bit of fun.  Stealing.  Just a bit of fun.  Go ahead, your friends won't mind.  Really.  Really?

Are you sure?

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