Notes for Jason Tanz “The Curse of Cow Clicker”

Contrast to simulating pinball, unimaginable by humans; is it a ridiculous ethical question whether the tasks imposed upon computers are equivalent to such unsatisfying everyday experiences as Bogosts games purportedly instantiate?

What is machine experience like such that circuit designs pose ethical questions when engineering design for capitalist organization (collective PHI).

(98) Jetset is the brainchild of Ian Bogost, a game developer and acadmic. While some videogamers let players vicariously experience the thrill of tossing a grenade into an enemy machine-gun nest, Bogost's offerings – designed under the auspices of his small development company, Persuasive Games – tend to simulate grinding, unsatisfying everyday experiences. . . . “Conventional games are structured to ensure you can accomplish tasks and level up,” says Bogost, who has a PhD in comparative literature and is director of Georgia Tech's graduate program in digital media. “In our game, you can't. . . . It is about working a bad job.”
(98) His acerbic perspective has won him invitations to countless gaming conferences, where he always commands the center of attention – whether onstage or tweeting furiously from the audience.

Software studies deployment of critical (serious) games.

(98) But Bogost's irreverence belies a sincere belief in the potential of videogames. He sees them as tools to educate and enlighten, to “disrupt and change fundamental attitudes and beliefs about the world,” as he put it in his 2007 book, Persuasive Games.
(99) most of his games haven't made much of a splash outside the insular world of game theorists and scrappy independent developers.

Cow Clicker meant to be satire game with short shelf life, in contrast to his serious games, yet it enslaved him and many players for 18 months counting.

(99) He mean Cow Clicker to be a satire with a short shelf life. Instead, it enslaved him and many of its players for much of the past 18 months.

The 2010 Game Developers Conference
(99) But while console games were crumbling, a new breed was flourishing: social games. These lightweight offerings – titles like
Happy Aquarium and Restaurant City, designed for casual gamers to play with their friends online – were attracting visitors by the millions, despite the fact that they had none of the strategic complexity or button-mashing action of traditional videogames.

Astounding that Farmville won honor for Best Social/Online Game despite being a cow clicker; imagine playing with Derrida Archive Fever instead: is this a sign we are getting more stupid?

(99) But there was no denying that Farmville was a hit; at the time of the conference, it had signed up 110 million people, with 31 million playing daily. So it was no surprise when, at the awards ceremony on the third day of the conference, Farmville won the honor for Best Social/Online Game.
(100) To Bogost, sitting in the audience, Mooney's triumphalism seemed a direct attack on gaming's artistic potential. “The day after Mooney's speech, this thought popped into my head,” Bogost says: “Games like
Farmville are cow clickers. You click, on a cow, and that's all you do. I remember thinking at the time that it felt like a one-liner, the kind of thing you would tweet. I just put in in the back of my mind.”

Cow Clicker created to accompany seminar on social games to illustrate worst abuses in clearest manner possible, to be understood via procedural rhetoric of playing it.

(100) 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 the 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.
(100) Bogost launched Cow Clicker during the NYU event in July 2010. Within weeks, it had achieved cult status among the indie-game fans and social-game critics.
(101) In fact, despite itself, Cow Clicker was perversely enjoyable. The cartoon cow was cute, with a boxy nose and nonplussed expression. After every click, it emitted a satisfying moo.

Something apocalyptic about playing stupid games that have a point.

(101) “Instead of stupid games that have no point, we might as well play a stupid game that has a point.” Yes, Scriven was playing ironically. But he – along with thousands of others like him – was still clicking.

Bogost's office

Bogost spent three years working on collection of new games for Atari 2600 A Slow Year, but recognized wider audience with web-based social game.

(101) Bogost spent three years sporadically working on the collection for the archaic Atari 2600, which he says forced him to accept constraints similar to those self-imposed by Imagist poets, like Exra Pound, who tried to use the most precise language possible in their work. If Cow Clicker is Bogost's diagnosis of what games shouldn't do, A Slow Year is his vision of what they might aspire to – exploring the artistic foundation of the medium to create new kinds of experience.
(101) Instead of addressing a few hundred participants at a conference, he was sharing his perspective with tens of thousands of players, many of whom checked in several times a day.

Kept players hooked by introducing new cow designs to be clicked, to the point that it consumed much of his free time.

(116) Bogost kept his players hooked by introducing new cows for them to purchase using virtual mooney or real money. . . . By the end of the year, Bogost was devoting as much as 10 hours a week to Cow Clicker. Drawings of cows cluttered his house and office.

Nick Yee also disturbed by addictive appeal of Cow Clicker.

(116) Bogost was not the only game theorist disturbed by Cow Clicker's addictive appeal. Nick Yee, a research scientist at PARC, the Xerox-owned innovation center, has been studying massively multiplayer online role-playing games for 12 years. . . . “The scary thing about Cow Clicker is that it's just an incredibly clear Skinner box,” Yee says. “What does that say about the human psyche and how easy it is to seduce us?”
(116) In recent years, companies have successfully used gamelike challenges and reward systems to encourage people to exercise (Nike+ and Wii Fit), explore their cities (Foursquare), and create models of proteins (Foldit).
(116) Corporations spent an estimated $100 million on gamification in 2010, and that figure is expected to rise to $2.8 billion by 2016.
(116)
At the beginning of 2011, Bogost was still slaving away at Cow Clicker. . . . In January, he announced that advent of Cowclickification, “the application of cow-clicking mechanics to non-cow-clicking applications.”
(116-118) But on an afternoon in September 2011, it is all coming to an end. Five months earlier, Bogost had put a countdown clock on
Cow Clicker, the expiration of which would bring about something called the Cowpocalypse.
(118) It's a common refrain among dedicated Cow Clickers, who have turned what was intended to be a vapid experience into a source of camaraderie and creativity. They post witty cow-themed comments and poems along with the announcements that clutter their newsfeeds. They design
Cow Clicker T-shirts and stickers.

Reverse of Phaedrus in which the inventor is criticized for attempting to define why people will like.

(118) “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?”
(118) Bogost writes that
Cow Clickerand, by extension games like Farmvilleare akin to the Nigerian prison, trapping players in a barren environment.
(118) After two months of delays thanks to donations totaling $700, the Cowpocalypse finally arrives at 7:30 pm on September 7.

Interesting to click nothing just to win a silly virtual award: a sign we are getting more stupid?

(118) After the Cowpocalypse, Bogost added one more bedeviling feature – a diamond cowbell, which could be earned by reaching 1 million clicks. It was intended as a joke; it would probably take 10 years of steady clicking to garner that many points. But Scriven says he might go for it. “It is very interesting, clicking nothing,” Scriven says. “But then, we were clicking nothing the whole time. It just looked like we were clicking cows.”


Tanz, Jason. “The Curse of Cow Clicker.” Wired 20.01 (January 2012): 98-118. Print.