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Games on Facebook – a psychological experiment October 19, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

After my last trip to the Middle East at the end of July, I started playing a few of the games on Facebook. Mainly these were to kill time in a fun way. But a couple of those make me think about the ways people think. Those two are Farmville (or its alternative from another provider, Farm Town) and Mafia Wars.

Farmville is very innocuous. You get a blank farm and collect points by buying things and growing crops. There are a variety of crops to grow that increases in number as you go up levels. There are trees and animals to acquire and you get paid for milking a cow or picking apples. Those coins go towards buying building and other things. The psychology in this game is more in observing the farms of others, or how you do your own. I am finding out that I am very organized and like neatness – no surprise there. But my farm, in contrast to most, might show that my neatness borders on anal-retentive. I never thought I was that severe and am pretty adaptable, but I must prefer an ideal of very orderly.

I look at others’ farms. Trees are scattered here and there, what seems haphazard to me. The anality says trees must be in an orchard-style setting of rows and all trees of similar types go together – peaches with peaches, apples with apples. I even have the three types of pa;ms grouped together, yet separate from the fruit trees. Animals can be put in place or allowed to roam randomly. Me? I have them grouped in tight arrays., no walking allowed. Some people grow various crops at the same time. I grew up on a 90-acre farm that had one big field planted with one crop, be it soybeans, sorghum, or hay. So this farm is that – one crop for it all.

Other farms seem disorderly and cluttered. Mine has ended up ordered and cluttered as I cram more and more stuff on the limited space. The future will probably see me jettisoning a lot of things and ending up with ordered and uncluttered.

Mafia Wars is a far different game because you interact much more with other players. In Farmville, it is just exchanging gifts of trees, animals, decorations. In Mafia Wars, you build your own mafia and fight others, both as individuals and as groups. Your strength in fights depends on your mafia, size and their strength, and the weapons you have obtained. Your collect both money and points that move you up levels.

If you are strong enough or attack someone repeatedly you may kill them (as far as scoring). This gains you no cash or points for actually killing anyone, but you do get a banner to post on your Facebook homepage. So there are no benefits in killing people other than accumulating the points in winning fights (or a portion of any cash they are carrying). But lots of players get into the mode of fighting someone until there is a kill. The fight points are really easy then. You beat someone the first time and just keep repeating. But you can do that by just picking on players with small numbers of mafia members (if you have 50, always fight those with only 20, for example). I do not get the attitude of guaranteed winning. It has no risk and no fun to me. I fight a player only once, just to see who wins. I also only fight someone with a mafia more or less my size, somewhere plus or minus 10 percent.

The wierd attitudes come in when you get somebody for killing you, or trying to. My player is very strong on offense, less so on defense. So I can get killed by one of these players, then return the favor – or I do the analogous thing, if they fight and beat me 8 times, then I do it 8 times back. Some people get pissed and resort to some of the revenge tactics, sicing their stronger mafia members on you or putting a bounty on you. They do not get it that you’re only giving them a taste of their own medicine.\

In both games, gifting things are part of the play. Most people are pretty even-handed. You give them somethging, they give you something. In Mafia Wars, you actually have wishlists because there are sets of things to collect. In that game, you do see more obviously the greedy people – they get gifts, but do not give back. I do not understand this attitude, being moderately altruistic and colleageal.

So I see some things more than just the game by playing.



1. Liz1388 - December 11, 2009

It occurred to me today that Mafia Wars (and possibly Facebook too) are really diabolical psychological experiments. So I googled to see if anyone else had the same idea. Your post was the first hit.

I’ve played FarmTown, Farmville and am now playing Mafia Wars, so I know what you are talking about. I too am a tidy farmer, although not perhaps as “anal” as you are.

My farm is still there. I reached the largest size at the time, although not the highest level by any means. I got bored once my farm looked the way I wanted it. I agree with you that many farms look way, way too busy – all those awkward “waterfalls”, LOL.

As for Mafia Wars, I also see my own tendencies at work. I am not a fighter either. I just do what I need to do to get loot, or level up. Even if I am winning money in attacks, I try to only do it twice to another player to avoid antagonizing anyone. Depends on my mood.

And I also only attack those at or near my level. I can’t believe some of my gang at 3 and 4 figure levels declaring war on noobs. I refuse to participate. I guess I am sort of like the early real Mafia families, with some measure of principles and self-imposed limits.

I notice how obsessive I am with the cash though. I rush to bank my income as soon as I get on.

It’s the bugs in the game, the frustrations of slowness and constantly changing kinks that made me think it’s a plot to drive players crazy though. This week Zynga (the developing company) brought out a new city (Bangkok) and as usual, the game is all messed up. Facebook is also instituting new changes all the time, many that make the application less pleasurable to use.

This is slowly driving me nuts.

Since this situation has become the rule and not the exception, I am convinced that they are trying to study how humans cope with constant frustration. I’m sure we’ll read all about it in Psychology Today eventually. Hopefully I will still be sane enough to read.

2. fetzthechemist - December 11, 2009

I know others experience these things, too, because of comments from players on my friends’ list. Most that I have interacted with are like me, no surprise there because the others – the brawlers and bullies – are just a different species.

I am a worker and collector. So it is amusing to see the brawlers begging for collectibles and consumables that they need to play – the phones, computers, illegal records, photos,. The most obvious are those who need the Cuban politico corruptos.If you are a worker, you end up with a ton of those – more than you will ever need.

Like real-world bullies, those in Mafia Wars cannot deal with being attacked themselves. If somebody hits you a dozen times trying to get an easy kill, they get pissed when you put them on the hitlist. Some get stubborn and annoying and keep coming back for the last effort. I just hitlist them again and again. After five or six times of dying, they usually quit or hitlist me in return. Like five-year olds.

I do not think Zynga does this intentionally to drive people crazy. I do think they intentionally set up things for more conflicts, like you cannot fight a war except with a friend. I think they are low-end programmers – the good ones get better paying jobs at bigger comanies. They end up with semi-amateur, immature programmers. The stupid inside joke nature of a lot of the gimmicks shows that. They lose track of the game’s premise.

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