Art of the Pan-Opt-in-a-Con: FarmVille and the Gamification of the Digital Landscape [Original: The Tyranny of Completion; Or, How Electronic Art Can Engage the Firehose]

Abstract (in English): 

Toward the end of 2020, one of the most culturally impactful web games of all time shut down—at least, the original, Flash-based version did. FarmVille, by social game studio Zynga, was not outstanding for its gameplay mechanics nor for its imaginative qualities. In fact, social games like Farmville are defined by game designer and scholar Ian Bogost as “games you don’t have to play.” Rather, FarmVille was special because it tapped into 2009-era Facebook’s lax user-generated notification system, and its developers succeeded in creating a user-operated spam cannon disguised as a game. What made FarmVille a cultural phenomenon is best represented by the metanarrative about how it manufactured and sold compulsive behavior to a new audience. By targeting ludic luddites with its folksy facade and “freemium” business model, FarmVille ushered in a new era of games that encouraged users to exchange money for in-game effects. Farmville is just one example of plethora experiences made possible by digital platforms that everyday people inhabit—and increasingly rely on for work and social connection during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—that demand constant attention. While it may not be a matter of your digital crops dying or your digital cows going unmilked, the gamification of real life has other, more tangible consequences. With questions circulating for years now on the extent of digital surveillance and abusive, intrusive advertisements disguised as entertainment, contemporary artforms must engage. To what degree can electronic literature exist in the same spaces (platforms) as applications that profit from artificial as well as human limits? And if new social platforms are needed to improve access to electronic literature, to what extent can they or should they resemble the status quo? Germane to this line of questioning is the advancements in computing power that have made imagining virtually limitless, uncompletable digital experiences possible. When a work is untethered from meaningful material limitations, new possibilities arise and—as is the case with impositions on an audience like FarmVillian microtransactions that reveal a naked pecuniary interest—certain possibilities are foreclosed upon; in other words, what form does a genre take when it can be “bottomless”? Asynchronicity is another element that must be better grappled with as individuals and institutions become more adapted to remote work and play. In what ways future platforms can address the breakneck kairos of art, either by accommodating or deviating from recent mass cultural reprogramming and the by-now prosaic ever-splintering, ever-accelerating pace of media consumption will be explored.

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Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz