By: Huiming Wang
Class: Fiona Andreallo, Thursdays 12pm
As its literal meaning indicates, social media game refers to a variety of games, such as Farm Ville and Onmyoji, played on social network sites (SNSs), unlike other computer-end games. The combo of the name allows the exploration of this concept both in the genres of game and social media.
There are two major categories of games from the perspective of game-study, massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) requirement a large consumption of time and attention and casual games allowing easy access and quit.
So far, most social media games are designed as casual games, but this does not mean that all casual games are categorized as social media games. Computer game players were seriously stereotyped as isolating themselves from the society and having difficulty in getting connected with others. According to Hinton & Hjorth (2013), a theory called “magic circle” that is used to describe a place for players who are separated or escape from the real world. Players in this circle are assumed hiding from the annoyance of real world and living in completely-free cyber space. But just as Hinton and Hjorth have described, so-called ‘casual’ games have risen and a wider range of games are accessible to a larger group of players and often enjoyed in unconventional, new manners. There is a report has revealed that PC, the traditional gaming device is still a major platform for MMOGs while the mobile terminals are also rising rapidly to be the major gaming platform (Brand & Todhunter, 2015).
Another finding lies in the changes in the demographics of game players. The majority of them are still aged between 15 and 34, but the weight of older group is increasing as a major trend as suggested by the elevated average age of players in past decades.
Hinton and Hjorth especially noted this point with a finding that people playing social media games have reported more diversified demographics and motivations than console game players or traditional computer game players. As more and more new players enter the market, a new economic form of game production is pictured (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). “Gamification”, this newly-created term has witnessed the rise and prevalence of social media games as a culture phenomenon (Juul 2009, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).
Social Media Perspective
From the perspective of social media as pointed out by Salen and Zimmerman in 2003, though games have been famous for their pursuit of being solitary and socially isolated, they have long been actually linked with conviviality (cited by Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). It has been also argued by Steinkuehler and Williams in 2006 that MMOGs are equipped with an engaging and rewarding online social environment. This fact has never been more true when it interacts with another fact that a lot of social media games even create a site like discussion forum for player to communicating with other players after realizing the leisure purpose of the game itself. What has been also corrected by Hinton & Hjorth (2013) is that game-playing appears to be more like highly-social experience rather than a solitary or isolating experience, which looks especially true in an online multiplayer environment.
Besides, the social media games are not simply one-way related with social media. Instead, the relationship between social media games and social media turns out to be more symbiotic. According to Hinton & Hjorth (2013), there is a common case that a player might be willing to pay real money for virtual goods like seeds or decorations in Happy Farm, which, however, might sound ridiculous to a non-player. But such kind of purchase becomes one major source of revenue to companies like Zynga who once confirmed that 90% of their revenue was contributed by the in-game purchases. Apparently, SNSs and social media games are interdependent and share benefits and profits together.
Happy Farm and Social media
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) carried out a case study of Happy Farm, a Chinese version of Farm Ville that was embedded in RenRen (a Chinese social media platform) to explore the mechanism of how this kind of social media game grew from zero to getting virus on social network platforms as well as its influence on social media.
First of all, the research team methodically looked into the temporal background when Happy Farm rose in China, involving the economic transitioning, the demographics of players and the features of Happy Farm that exactly caught players’ needs. As what was pointed out by Hinton and Hjorth (2013), it was an elusive dream for most people to own a house in this social-economic backdrop with fierce competition and economic pressure. Under this background, Happy Farm offered a nostalgic fantasy where people were allowed to utilize the basic economic model of capitalism in their simple farms and replete through the morally-questionable practices of theft to develop their farms and accumulate wealth.
Moreover, the social function of Happy Farm was also elaborated by Hinton and Hjorth. According to Hinton and Hjorth (2013), in the game, players could help their friends develop farms to gain experience points and in-game gifts were given to players for further development for inviting their friends to join the game. Hou (2011) explained that these social interaction elements in Happy Farm demonstrated an obvious effect on encouraging people to be more engaged in the game and play more frequently (Cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Meanwhile, different empirical evidences were also raised by Hinton and Hjorth to exhibit the influences of his social media game on different groups of players in China. A surprising finding was obtained by Hinton and Hjorth (2013) that compared to young adults, older players were more engaged and even addicted to Happy Farm, which could be dubbed as a type of ‘kidults’. Another interesting finding remained that the social media game could connect both friends and family members in China.
The contribution of social media game concept
By my personal experience, I’ve gained an overview and clear guidance from the concept of social media game to understand its social functions and how it works on social media platforms. The concept has also motivated me to further reflect on the social space in these social media games. According Hinton and Hjorth (2013), these social zones are interesting enough as they allow players to joyfully experiment with the game and contribute new and unintended (as far as designers are concerned) ways of playing games. Those places are called as “gap” in social media games and it is of great importance to maintain these gaps when designing the social media game, considering its useful function and role. For instance, when designing the social media game project of Sydneycon, one of the incentives could be set that the system will deliver somebody a lovely gift if he/she posts the photo featuring Sydneycon. The rule is clear that the picture is supposed to contain the element of Sydneycon, but the “gap” is also left as they do not require what kind of gesture they have to pose or what kind of information that they choose to show. I’m well inspired that it would be surely a good way to offer such space for audience to create on social media platforms.
As a conclusion, the nature of social media games being social lies in that the social engagement plays an essential role in these games. No matter with which approach, all social games induce people to connect their friends and be involved in new possible connections in the cyber space, which creates fun and multiple ways of engagement for players to stay active and connected in the virtual world.
Brand, J. E. & Todhunter, S. (2015). Digital Australia 2016. Eveleigh, NSW: IGEA.
Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Social Media Games. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 100–119). London: SAGE.