In a recent interview with PC Gamer, game developer Jonathan Blow was asked whether he though social games are "evil." The Braid creator responded with an emphatic, "Yes. Absolutely." Currently working on his second major release, The Witness, the independent game designer has spoken choice words about the genre in the past. But this is the first time Blow has associated social games with such a Biblical term as evil. His argument is that by design social games invade your free time as a whole by stringing you along to the next object or feature that you want. But does this make social games evil?
Jonathan BlowBy design, social games tend to be exploitative. "If you want to play more, you've got to pay more," is the motto of just about every game on Facebook. And Blow (pictured right) points this trait out repeatedly in his time with PC Gamer, but with a lens that every social gamer will become hopelessly obsessed with games like CityVille or Bejeweled Blitz. So are they the Grinch of the gaming industry? Sure they are, but in saying that we're deeming one half of the equation completely innocent: the players.
Yes, there have been plenty of tragic cases of social game addiction over the past year, but compared to the 250 million Facebook gamers out there this is nothing. Are MMOs like World of WarCraft evil for supporting the addictive tendencies of gamers? How about the Call of Duty series? If this is the case, then every game that persists for longer than its shelf life through enticing downloadable content (DLC), expansion packs or a subscription fee is evil. At least just a smidgen.
Mass Effect 2 by Bioware received Game of the Year at the Interactive Achievement Awards this year, but technically speaking it wasn't complete upon release. DLC has extended its story ... for a price. You could easily argue that Bioware could have extended its development cycle to include this content at the same launch price of $60. Yet the developer decided to do the unthinkable and charge us extra to experience the rest of its story. And we all put up the $5 or $10 more time after time.
Exploitative? Absolutely. Evil? Well, you don't have to buy it, right?
Or do you? Games might not have in the 1980s, but today just about all types of games play to the varying levels of addictive tendencies in all of us. The engrossing storyline in BioShock can be just as addicting as the risk-reward, carrot-on-the-stick gameplay of FarmVille. But we're equally responsible for shutting the computer down and, say, loving our children. Blow might have directed his statement at social game designers, but players are equally as important in the design process and we have a certain level of control over what's created. Social games, like all video games, are only as evil as you allow them to be.
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