Virtual worlds. Games. Games involving virtual worlds. Virtual worlds involving games. It’s blurry and confuzzling and I’m not gonna bother trying to unpack the terms individually – especially when the two are so naturally compatible. Case and point:
…Allow me to explain.
I, too, have had my spell of addiction to the fleetingly popular Facebook game known as Candy Crush Saga. It was glorious. And a pretty decent waste of time. But it happened. And it kinda illustrates some interesting stuff about social media.
The game itself didn’t set up a very complex virtual world, other than the literal map that contained uni-directional stepping stones denoting each level as you passed it. But it was the social aspect that so captivated my attention, as well as that of my peers. For once one of us had become addicted, a brutal competition ensued (it was procrastination season – the winter exam break,) and after getting a taste for our own abilities in the simple Bejewelled-esque game, I came up with a brilliant idea – to turn the time-wasting activity into an endeavour with real-world consequences. The first person to blow enough time and energy on the stupid thing (likely instead of actually studying) by beating the 100th level would receive a beverage on New Year’s Eve from all of the losing participants. …Chaos ensued.
The loose social aspects of the game (requiring you to get sent lives by fellow players – now competitors – as well as every so often be granted a ‘ticket’ from a minimum of three opponents before being granted access to the next set of puzzles) resulted in real life tensions, frustrations, lost sleep, and poor academic performance. I came to detest the brand Skittles for forcing me to sit through advertisements between every few games — yet suspiciously began to crave Skittles while playing. It was a dark period in my life in which I made an obscene amount of Bulk Barn runs. One of my friends actually gave into the consumer-driven premise of the game outright and paid, yes paid real money, to get one of those golden tickets in an attempt to catch up. But it was of no use. I was just too good. I had harassed friends in real life, I made a phone call to a girl in Ottawa who I knew would be awake at the hour I had ashamedly been crushing candies until, so that she would DOWNLOAD the Candy Crush App, in order to SEND ME a ticket so I could keep playing. And why the hell am I publishing all of this? Because it illustrates some interesting stuff about us social beings.
The game itself, only marginally social, and even more marginally monetized, became an involvement that required hours and hours of labour, stimulated actual consumerism, created disputes and excitement, and generated instances of social bonding and even distrust. So even if a virtual world isn’t as poignantly involving as something like Second Life, it can have profound impacts upon social interaction, and in a roundabout way result in me not remembering the first few hours of 2013. Because that’s right suckahz, I WON. ME. THE DREAM SHATTERING CANDY CRUSHING CHAMPION OF 2012. But anyways. I thought it was kinda cool.