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Facebook: Playing with Reality

The rules of Facebook as a game are essentially defined by the capabilities and limitations of Facebook. The player can use whatever tools Facebook provides, including editing personal information, posting on walls, commenting, sending messages, adding pictures and videos, linking to websites, etc.

The game consists mostly of manipulation and attack.

Manipulation:
The player edits and adds information in order to alter the reality of facebook drastically from the reality of life. For example, a player can claim to be in a relationship when she is actually single. The response elicited from her "friends" determines her success in manipulation. To trick the audience is to win. To be called on the ploy is to lose. There are many creative interpretations the player can take on what it means to manipulate within the Facebook setting.

Attack:
Attacks can also be creative. One form of attack is the conversation hijack. If a player finds a personal conversation between two people in a comment string on a friend's wall, the player can insert his own comment to "hijack" the conversation. He wins the conversation. Another form of attack is already built into Facebook, and it is called the poke. The player can engage in poking battles with friends. To win is to poke under the radar so that the opponent is unaware of the poke and does not poke back.

The way to "win" Facebook is only possible as a series of momentary wins, as explained above. The game can be engaged and disengaged by the player at her will, depending on when she requires use of Facebook as a social network versus when she would prefer to engage in game play.

Analysis: 

Why would anyone want to play Facebook like a game instead of utilizing its design as a cyber extension of social affairs the way Mark Zuckerberg (and those dudes he stole the idea from) planned it? The basic reason for switching modes is best explained by Ian Bogost in “Newsgames,” “...games simulate how things work by constructing models that people can interact with, a capacity Bogost has given the name procedural rhetoric. This is a type of experience irreducible to any other, earlier medium. (p. 4)”

While it is clear that Facebook has already been constructed as a model that people can interact with, altering those interactions to game play offers variability and a certain level of entertainment to time spent on Facebook. Bogost points out that “we normally think of [games] as private affairs… Even if we play with others, it is only in small groups,” but he continues to define the concept of community games, which are wholly or partially set in the real world. This is the classification of the Facebook game. (p. 5)

Often, I overhear conversations between friends about how ashamed they are of the amount of time they waste on Facebook “stalking” people. There seems to be a certain cloud of guilt covering the majority of frequent Facebook users, stressing them over their use of Facebook. Despite these sentiments, social networking is ideally designed for good, for the purposes of communicating and spreading ideas and keeping in touch amongst others. In an effort to dismiss the guilt, the Facebook game offers a user the option of essentially taking Facebook less seriously – making a mockery of it the same way he or she does to her friends in real life conversation. Instead of stressing over this self-diagnosed issue of stalking online, users can instead use stalking as a method of game play.

Switching into game play also helps the player to evaluate his investment in Facebook as a social medium. It represents “a real and viable opportunity to help citizens form beliefs and make decisions (p. 6)” by making the alter ego player assess the reasons and repercussions of his attacks and manipulations in game play on his default real self within the social network as a cyber citizen. He has to figure out why and in what ways he takes Facebook seriously, and why he is willing to or wants to forfeit some of that seriousness for the sake of game play. Facebook will inevitably become a meta experience for the Jekyll and Hyde Facebook user.

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