So, 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.
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”?