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#Cowclicker, the Cowpocalypse and Facebooks Games

November 23, 2011

Game theorist and designer Ian Bogost made his own Facebook to critique the actions and ideas behinf games like Farmville:

Cow Clicker is a Facebook game about Facebook games. It’s partly a satire, and partly a playable theory of today’s social games, and partly an earnest example of that genre.

You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom “premium” cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called “mooney”), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.

So the released the ‘game’ to see what would happen. The results of illuminating! This is a transcript of an interview and discussion about the game

BOGOST: After a while I realized they’re doing exactly what concerned me about these games. They’re, you know, becoming compulsively attached to it. There was one point when I realized that I was now attached to in a compulsive way. I was worrying about what the cow clickers thought while I was away from the game. And that was the moment at which I both felt kind of empathy with the players. And also, I began to feel very disturbed by the product.

VOGT: He decided to sabotage the game, to tweak it, to make it more maddening, more dumb.

ALEXANDER: At one point, he just like, he took the default cow, switched it to face the other direction and charged 20 bucks for it. And people bought it.

VOGT: Bogost couldn’t diminish people’s love for Cow Clicker. The game generated its own fan culture.

BOGOST: Cow Clicker poetry, silkscreen printed T-shirts. There was this woman who did these sort of Cow Clicker portraits of all her Cow Clicker friends.

VOGT: Bogost decided that if he couldn’t ruin Cow Clicker, he’d kill it. He got in touch with friends across the world, and had them hide clues in the real world for Cow Clicker diehards to find. Once assembled, the clues spelled out a chilling prophecy.

BOGOST: Cowpocalypse, and then there was this timer that started running. And with the timer ended, then the game would shut down. Or at least that was the implication. I never really said what would happen.

VOGT: In a final twist of perversity, Bogost designed his game-ending countdown clock to speed up whenever anyone played the game and to reset if people paid money.

BOGOST: I wanted the players to feel like they were accelerating their own demise by playing. And then be tempted to maybe purchase their way out of it. And several people, like, extended the clock at the very last minute a few times.

VOGT: When you create something, you don’t get to decide how it will be received. Ian Bogost’s game wasn’t designed to be enjoyable, but it turned out to be possibly the most resonant game he’s ever made. His take on what that might mean is actually pretty optimistic.

BOGOST: It shows us how weird and complicated simple things really are. And shows me not that like I’m some sort of brilliant designer who made this thing that was bigger than I thought it was but how resilient and creative people are. I did this thing that was Cow Clicker, and in spite of it, they rose above and sort of made it something more than it really was.

VOGT: That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another. You remember that countdown clock?

BOGOST: When the clock finally counted down to zero, there was a cow rapture.

VOGT: Here’s how the Cowpocalypse actually transpired.

BOGOST: All the cows were whisked away. And all that was left were the little shadows where they had been standing. But the game continued to run. And, in fact, the game continues to run to this day. And there are still people clicking on the spot where a cow used to be.

Full article is here.

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