Making Curriculum Pop

Did not know about the Cow Clicker game. Interesting article re: game purpose & design in the January 2012 Wired Magazine.

The Curse of Cow Clicker: How a Cheeky Satire Became a Videogame Hit By Jason Tanz.


As the debate over Zynga [creators of FarmVille]—and social games in general—became an industry obsession, Bogost was asked to speak at several conference panels and academic colloquiums. Before a seminar at New York University called Social Games on Trial, he decided that instead of creating the usual series of slides to accompany his talk, he would design a game that would illustrate what he saw as the worst abuses of social gaming in the clearest possible manner. That way, rather than just listening to his argument, people could play it.
Remembering his cow-clicker idea, Bogost threw together a bare-bones Facebook game in three days. The rules were simple to the point of absurdity: There was a picture of a cow, which players were allowed to click once every six hours. Each time they did, they received one point, called a click. Players could invite as many as eight friends to join their “pasture”; whenever anyone within the pasture clicked their cow, they all received a click. A leaderboard tracked the game’s most prodigious clickers. Players could purchase in-game currency, called mooney, which they could use to buy more cows or circumvent the time restriction. In true FarmVille fashion, whenever a player clicked a cow, an announcement—”I’m clicking a cow“—appeared on their Facebook newsfeed.
And that was pretty much it. That’s not a nutshell description of the game; that’s literally all there was to it. As a play experience, it was nothing more than a collection of cheap ruses, blatantly designed to get players to keep coming back, exploit their friends, and part with their money. “I didn’t set out to make it fun,” Bogost says. “Players were supposed to recognize that clicking a cow is a ridiculous thing to want to do.”
It may be that Cow Clicker demonstrates the opposite of what it set out to prove and that social games, no matter how cynically designed, can still provide meaningful experiences. That’s how Zynga’s Reynolds sees it. He argues that, while early versions of FarmVille aren’t as sophisticated as the company’s more recent offerings like FrontierVille and CastleVille, which include such features as involved narratives and fleshed-out characters, they still allow players to connect with one another and express themselves. “Ian made Cow Clicker and discovered, perhaps to his dismay, that people liked it,” Reynolds says. “Who are we to tell people what to like?”
Gabe Zichermann, a gamification expert, also dismisses Bogost’s critique of Zynga’s games. “Other gamers may think FarmVille is shallow, but the average player is happy to play it,” he says. “Two and a Half Men is the most popular show on television. Very few people would argue that it’s as good as Mad Men, but do the people watching Two and a Half Men sit around saying, oh, woe is me? At some point, you’re just an elitist fuck.”
Bogost delivered his response to this line of argument in a well-read blog essay called “Shit Crayons.” In the piece, he compared Cow Clicker players to the imprisoned Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, who composed poems from his cell using whatever writing material he could find. Bogost writes that Cow Clicker—and, by extension, games like FarmVille—are akin to the Nigerian prison, trapping players in a barren environment. The fact that people are able to exercise creativity despite the cruel limitations of the game—to craft crayons out of shit—is a sign of the indomitable human spirit but no reflection whatsoever on the merits of Cow Clicker. “Even if creativity comes from constraint, there’s constraint and there’s incarceration,” he writes. “A despot in a sorcerer’s hat does not deserve praise for inciting desperate resilience.”

Read the whole article and learn about the Cowpocalypse HERE. Also see Ian Bogost's blog on the game HERE and his appearance on the Colbert Report HERE.

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Replies to This Discussion

That is really facinating! I'm going to have to find his book and give it a read. I agree with Bogost 100%. His point on on people bringing creativity to a small time game is a really neat idea, one that should be looked into more. Some of his points in the interview with Colbert made a lot of sense.

Hey Rachel - so glad you enjoyed the article.  I think he gives us a lot to chew on, eh?  I hope you're having a great holiday!


Same with you. ^_^ Yeah it definetly is a lot to think about. I mean, this could be the future of gaming right here. Using these games like Ipad or Iphone aps as class exercises on certain subjects. It would benefit the game industry as well as broaden education materials. The only issue is getting more members of the educational community aware of this potential not to mention concerned parents. I may want to try and get in contact with this guy and tell him I share his interests in this subject and willing to support his ideas.

I think it is just important to keep the whole multiple intelligence / learning style thing in mind to remind us that not all kids are gamers / connect to learning through gaming.  While I keep up with the gaming stuff - I pretty much stopped enjoying video games after SuperMario 1 was waaayyyy beyond my skill set :)  The other - I think key - thing about gaming in Ed is that students have to be metacognitive about their gaming and reflect on what they are learning, why, how, etc.



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