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Game Culture, Play

Are Social Media Game Players Really Gamers?

words with friends gaming logoSo, you indulge in a few rounds of Words With Friends.  Or you may not admit it openly, but you have been known to play a little FarmVille (honestly, can you really play “a little” Farmville?).  At the very least you’ve been frustrated by being inundated with requests to join Facebook friends in their newest game, or to send them the latest items that they need to  create meals in their virtual restaurant, or clicks that will help summon armies to defeat some thunderous monster attacking their virtual realm.  Or perhaps you play Angry Birds on your smart phone or Plants Vs Zombies on your new tablet.  It’s a great way to whittle away the time while waiting in doctors’ offices or riding the bus.

But does playing these social media games make you a gamer?

Many folks who proudly fly the banner of “gamer” would say no.  There’s not enough skill involved, they would protest, or not enough commitment.  There’s the question of if the games are complex enough to consider them in the same realm as console or stand-alone (boxed) games.  Some say that there is not enough social interaction involved (as opposed to MMOs or multi-player options of boxed games), others complaining that social media games are nothing but social interaction (in that the platform of Facebook overshadows the application).  The bottom line seems to be that social media games certainly appear to be lacking in “gamer cred”.

But I guess it really depends on what your definition of a “gamer” is.  To me, a gamer is simply someone who plays a game.  We may think of gamers as those who flock to PS3s or X-Boxes, or who play PC games, sometimes with others and often for hours, with a lot of time and effort invested.  But I happen to believe that Magic: the Gathering card players are gamers, as are organized board game players, or MUD players, D&D players, cribbage players or, bless them, little old ladies at their Mahjong tables.  My daughter just pointed out that social games are no less complex than classic arcade games such as PacMan or Centipedes or Donkey Kong, or are even more complex than Asteroids and Pong, yet we would call masters of those arcade games, gamers.

castle age game screenshot

Plus, social games can be very interactive.  I have one game I play on Facebook (Castle Age) that is guild driven, and I have gotten to know folks around the globe through my guild interaction, perhaps even to a broader degree than in MMOs because we also interact through immediately available status updates that are purely social, as well as constant guild (text) chat and dedicated guild Facebook pages.  It can be extremely time consuming, too, with daily guild battles (that last 5 hours a pop) and monsters to attack and quests to attempt and battles to wage.  Heck, I bet many people spend just as much time playing Facebook games as others do stand-alone games such as World of Warcraft or Mass Effect or Gears of War.

Yet so many games on social media are what I call “dreck” games; ones that are mindless, mind-numbing point and click, rote.  Still, they are games, by definition:  activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.  So perhaps it’s not that folks who play (exclusively) social media games are not gamers, but that they are a particular level, or degree of gamer?  After all, we in the landscape recognize “casual” gamers, and “hardcore” ones, “power” gamers and “serious” gamers, even “social” gamers.  Why not “social media” gamers?  I recognize that the term would reflect more a platform than a (for wont of a better word) discipline, yet does it not evoke a particular image when used (for better or worse)?  At least for me it does.

What do you think?  How would you weigh in?  Are people who play strictly social media games truly “gamers”?

4 thoughts on “Are Social Media Game Players Really Gamers?”

  1. I would agree with the definition of gamer being a person who plays games, and so view people who play Facebook games as gamers. I have a friend at work who is obsessed with these games and has even made friends with people across the world through Facebook to progress further in a particular game. She was laughing at me and my partner for playing computer games and I pointed out she probably spends more time on Facebook games then I do on my PS3. She went quiet and agreed that she probably was a gamer just not in the traditional sense.

  2. I had a friend send this to me on Facebook with a fun little circle chart showing how FB gaming might actually intersect "box" games and other games like card games and board games. He gave me permission to repost it here:

    I can't post this as a reply to you last post because of the picture, but I think a lot of it is tied to the platform and the proximity of the other participants with the realm of Social Media Gaming occupying a "common ground" (See my masterfully crafted graphic 🙂 ) in which it is OK for a member of each side to enter into but not cross over to the 'dark side' of the game world.

    Society at large does seem to have a definition of "gamer" however the stereotype seems to be changing from person to person so that in a few years, or a generation even, the word "gamer" is going to not only connotate but also denotate something different than it does now- we just happen to be conscious of the change currently taking place. It looks like you're promoting the change from your usage, and I'm clinging to stereotype because I'm perpetuating it here 😛

    Interesting thoughts.

    Eric Sandoval

  3. Excellent topic, Sharon! I admit that these thoughts are triggered just by the title; I promise to come back and read the whole article when I have some spare time.
    I feel that gaming has been needlessly divided by the "hardcore/casual" status line. I think that anyone who participates in "gaming" in whatever sense could be considered a gamer. Not everyone wants to be titled a "gamer", because that I think signifies some sort of weighty status onto a person, like "all they do is play games". :p
    As for me, I identify as a gamer, but I personally do not play many titles that are considered casual because most of them don't engage me. I however feel that there's nothing inherently wrong with them as a game; they just don't stimulate me the way other games do. I'm also not of the online gaming sort, either "hardcore" or "casual".

  4. My feeling has been this since the day that Regina asked me to define a gamer. It is a person who spends the majority of their free time involved in playing games or engaging in activities that are related to games. For example, you would not call someone who mails the occasional letter a stamp collector. A real collector spends time researching where to find a particular stamp, or what a stamp's worth might be. The same can be said of gaming. If i play a game once or twice a week to kill some time, i'm not necessarily a gamer. However, if i play that same game several times a week for say an hour or more a session and spend time looking up strategies on how to play or be better at the game, then i feel you have a compelling case for me being a gamer.

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