Construction vs Destruction

Warning: Much pondering and thinking out loud ahead.

So for the past week or so I’ve been playing Frontierville on Facebook, and for part of that time Tipa of West Karana has been my neighbor. She reviewed the game today and I urge you to read what she had to say.

I don’t disagree with her at all, and yet I think I like the game more than she does, and I was going to post a comment explaining why when I realized I couldn’t exactly say why. So I’ve been pondering that, and then Scopique talked about crafting and process and minigames and that kind of got stirred into my thought process.

I’ve always loved crafting in MMOs. I remember when Ultima Online was the reigning king, some upstart (I think it was EQ but don’t quote me that) ran an ad campaign where they kind of jeered at UO saying, “Would you rather craft a chair or kill an orc.” And I was all like “RAWR! KILL THE ORC! KILL THE ORC!”

At least, that’s what I thought I wanted. But crafting in EQ was really frustrating and not a huge part of the game (at least back then) and I missed UO’s crafting system. I still miss it to an extent. There’re only a handful of MMOs with really rich crafting systems. UO, SWG, Vanguard… maybe I’ve missed some.

But the idea of harvesting materials and using them to make something is really appealing to me. Back when I lived in a rural area I had an interest in woodworking and gardening and constructing things, but that all sort of dropped away when I became an urban/suburban apartment dweller. Crafting scratches that construction itch, in some small way.

There are many, many games about Destruction (at the very simplest level…killing opponents) but not as many about Construction. Or at least I’m not familiar with as many. City-building games (and 4X games scratch both itches… you build up your empire and tear down the enemy’s). Most Construction in games is either in a kind of software toy (ie The Sims) or it means actually building assets for the game (Little Big Planet, or any game with a level editor).

Tipa says of Frontierville: “As a GAME game, well, there�s really no point to the game.” and she’s right. Zynga’s #1 goal is that you never “finish” the game and stop paying for items, right?

But what I get from Frontierville is that same UO construction itch scratched. I take some odd satisfaction out of clearing the land (and in so doing harvesting wood for buildings) and then bringing order to my little plot. Technically I guess this is Destruction: I’m destroying trees and such. Maybe I should be using “increasing/decreasing entropy” rather than construction/destruction.

It’s true my options are limited, but they’re not fixed. I can start to build whatever building I feel the urge to build (though as you gain levels you gain more options) but then I have to rely on “Neighbors” for supplies.

Neighbors, though… they’re kind of important to me. Remember back when I talked about We Rule on the iPad? I didn’t have much good to say about it, but guess what? I still play it.

But Construction gaming is always more fun when you can show it off. No one really sees my We Rule kingdom anymore, but in Frontierville I have evidence of who has come to visit. Granted they don’t come to see what I’ve done…they come to get bonuses and materials…for gameplay reasons. But I know when I go visiting I make note of what my friends are up to. This one is all about function, that one is chaotic, and this third one has spent a lot of real $$ on special items…what a surprise. I feel like I get tiny glimpses into the personalities and minds of the players.

Going back to UO, once you built your house and furnished it, what was the next logical step? Throwing a party, of course. Have people come over to see what you’ve made.

Someone on my forums referred to a type of gamer they called a Decorator and I thought that was a very good term. It was in a discussion about “What is a real game” and he (I know him only as Bognor) said:

There is a class of gamer called a “collector” and another called a “decorator”. Farmville and its ilk appeals to these classes because they have opportunities to acquire “rares” and to build esthetically pleasing farm layouts. There exist choices in this context, and competition within these classes. To those of use who are not collectors or decorators, there is not much appeal in Farmville.

That made a ton of sense to me. That collector part of me, I’ve always known about, but the decorator is a new self-discovery. My We Rule kingdom is now laid out like a “real” kingdom would be, with the road to the castle literally paved in gold and surrounded by statuary and sparkly trees. Why? There’s no gameplay reason for it, but it was pleasing to me to do… although it took me weeks and weeks of playing before I started doing it.

I’m not an artist, although I’ve always wished I had some artistic talent. In some way these not-games like We Rule, Frontierville, or MMOs with rich crafting systems let me pretend to be an artist for a little while.

Does my Frontierville plot look unique? Honestly no…there isn’t that much variability between plots. But it is still mine, laid out as I wanted to lay it out. I’m pretty anal about pulling weeds that sprout up in cleared areas…I guess in some tiny sense I take some pride in my space. And I suspect when I get to the point where all the forest has been cleared and all the land tamed, I’ll probably lose interest (if not before).

My next project might be actually working on my character’s inn room in EQ2. I see the crazy things people build and while I’m impressed by them, I also find the range of options a bit daunting. Again, with these simple not-games, the limited choices are almost a blessing. There’s nothing intimidating about arranging your barn and cabin and apple trees in Frontierville, y’know?

I don’t know if I have a point here. Like I said at the top of the post, this is more stream-of-consciousness thinking about *why* I’m enjoying a game that is hardly a game (and which draws such ire from a large population of ‘core gamers’).

FrontierVille and other Facebook games

I’ve been having problems with my arm lately (friends will remember I went through this last fall…it’s a recurring RSI/pinched nerve/something thing that hits my left shoulder every so often) which means traditional gaming was more or less off the table this weekend. A bit of Deathspanking but that was about it.

So I’m mindlessly clicking around the internet (my mouse arm is fine) and I find myself on Facebook and decide to try Frontierville again. And this time I got hooked. I’ve been playing it off and on all weekend; I feel like I ought to be ashamed of that fact but the truth is, I was having fun.

The best way I can find to describe Frontierville is that it’s like Harvest Moon turned into a social game. You still have the real time energy accumulation of social gaming so you can only play in fits and starts, but otherwise it’s very Harvest Moon-like. Clearing land, planting crops, raising animals, and meeting goals to progress the storyline (such that it is…to a great extent the storyline happens in your own head). For instance right now I’m working on the requirements to get my bride-to-be to move out West with me. It isn’t as in-depth as Harvest Moon; you’re not choosing a townsperson to woo or anything. But it’s still pretty fun.

On the other hand, figuring out how to play as much as possible adds a kind of meta-game layer to the real game. I’d accumulated tons of gift offers (turns out I have a lot of Facebook friends who’re playing) and that carried me through most of the weekend. Eating meals gets you energy and lots of people had sent me meals. You can also get an energy boost by visiting friends’ homesteads.

You do have to do some trading with friends, or spend money, in order to play. I’ve been doing the former. And there are goals built around visiting your friends’ lands, so playing solo would strip out a good chunk of activities.

I used to hate how these games spammed my Facebook wall, but since I don’t use Facebook (except now, for playing games), and since Facebook now stacks the spam (so you see one event with a “see 40 other Frontierville notifications” link below it), and allows you to block notifications from a given app, I decided not to worry about it anymore. If people who don’t game on Facebook unfriended me, I probably wouldn’t even notice.

Swept up in the moment, I tried a bunch of other games but only two sorta stuck: My Empire (which reminds me a tiny bit of the old Ceasar games, if Ceasar had no military component and was just city building) and My Tribes, which is a Facebook-ized version of the Virtual Villagers casual game. Neither of these really grabbed me powerfully yet but we’ll see.

I must be mellowing in my old age or something. Playing Facebook games. What’s next? Sunday afternoons at the Bingo parlor? I even *almost* spent money on Frontierville, too! There’s an item you can buy that increases the amount of Energy you can store up. It would’ve cost me $5.00 to buy enough “Horseshoes” to buy it. I came damned close…

Anyone else have a good Facebook game to recommend? Something that feels like a real game? I prefer some kind of map/gameboard… stuff like Mafia Wars or Castle Age that are more or less text-based don’t really grab me. And I don’t want anything that I have to log into every 2 hours. Any suggestions?