In 2010, Ian Bogost created the game Cow Clicker as a way of poking fun at FarmVille, Zynga’s social game which at the time boasted tens of millions of active players. Observing that in these games, all you did was click, pay for the privilege of clicking more, and pay for the occasional decorative item, he made a game that simply had cows. Every four hours, you could click your cow. It would moo. If you wanted to click it before the four hours were up, you could pay for that. If you wanted specialty cows (which included oily BP cows, shimmering gilded bovines, and a Hello Kitty style Hello Cow) you could pay for those too.
On September 7, 2011, disappointed at having made more profit on Cow Clicker than all the rest of his tremendously thoughtful oeuvre put together, he finally raptured the cows into the great milky beyond.
Cow Clicker still exists, as an app, though its cows remain in our hearts and memories only.
In a blog post, also called Cow Clicker, Bogost outlined his frustration with social games. He wrote that games like FarmVille didn’t merely consume our time, they destroyed it. “Social games so covet our time that they abuse us while we are away from them, through obligation, worry, and dread over missed opportunities.”
While Skyrim might take some folks nearly a hundred hours to finish, while some gamers might drop hundreds more trying out Deity games of Civilization V, online games are always there. Waiting for the player’s august return. Those games never end, not after a hundred hours. Not after a thousand.
When games mix attractive rewards, compulsive design, and a disregard for the value of a player’s time, they create grinds.
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