Friday, December 26, 2008

Gunned Down

As someone who studies digital media created by the legitimate organs of representative government, playing the rough-and-tumble social game Mob Wars on Facebook would seem to have little to do with my interests in recognized political discourses or with forms of online interaction in which social actors are closely connected to their real-world identities in the hierarchical organizations of work, family, and community, which I explore in a recent talk, "In Polite Company: Rules of Play in Five Facebook Games," but there are a number of ways that the game in interesting from a digital rhetoric standpoint.

Supposedly Mob Wars in now the most lucrative game on Facebook, based on the virtual economy it generates through real money transactions. (PackRat, which I have written about before and played obsessively, comes in third on this list, although the introduction of pay-to-play "tickets" created wide-spread resistance among players who were unhappy with the role that monetary resources could play in skewing results in the game.) A recent interview with developers argues that games make far more money than applications for gift-giving or social channel-checking.

Like most computer games, there is also a rich corpus of discourses related to cheating techniques, whether it is the cryptic video above or this list of strategy guidelines, which proves yet again the validity of the insights in Mia Consalvo's book on Cheating. Given the importance of subversive identity positions in the game and role-playing on the Internet more generally with websites like the Mafia name generator, this demi-monde is hardly surprising.

Reviewers also note that the need to expand your gang size is a serious bottleneck, since asking other friends to add the application could be seen as a serious social faux pas, in light of the nature of game play where your real-life boss could soon find himself punched in the face or put on a hit list by pseudonymous strangers. Unlike the Facebook game Zombies and its ilk, fights are generally with strangers rather than with real-life associates near your own game level, so many might see the aggression as lacking in the normal social rituals associated with competition.

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