Media Viruses and My Addiction to Sims Social.

October 26, 2011

If anyone who reads this is on friends with me on Facebook, I apologize. I’ve been bitten by the Sims Social bug, and I don’t have any plans to stop anytime soon. I went through the trouble of learning the new Facebook interface enough to create a group just for my Sims updates, but every once in a while, they slip through. So for that I apologize.

I ask myself how in the world I would get so drawn into something like that. I played Farmville once, but it was a short lived affair. I ignore all the other game requests. I don’t have time to play these games, and yet somehow Sims has become something that invades my psyche when I’m sitting alone and bored, and anytime I’m on Facebook.

In Media Virus, Douglas Rushkoff argues about the viral nature of the media object: rather than being a metaphor, media events are viruses. He argues:

“We live in an age when the value of data, images, and ideologies has surpassed that of material acquisitions and physical territory…the only place left for our civilization to expand – our only real frontier – is the ether itself: the media (4).”

Once, many eons ago, I used to play the “real” Sims on a PC. I would recreate my own world with all of my childhood friends in their own houses. I made hypothetical children with my hypothetical husband. I went shopping with my hypothetical girlfriends. I took care of my hypothetical pets after getting home from my hypothetical job. When in a particularly bad mood, or just feeling silly, I hypothetically killed my Sims off in horrendous ways, like drowning in a pool with no ladder, or catching the kitchen on fire.

I say these with a sense of macabre humor because I know I’m not the only one that did these things. But eventually, the majority of us grew out of it. We went onto more productive things like Myspace, and then Facebook, and now Google Plus. If you were a gamer, you leveled up to more violent endeavors like Street Fighter and Halo (of course, speaking from experience).

So why are so many of us guilty of jumping so readily into Sims Social? It is, in Rushkoff’s own words, the Trojan horse (7). We adopt it quickly because of it’s familiarity, it is a gameplay that we understand well, both from pervious experience with the brand, and it’s reflection of our own lives. Once we are inside, we see the symbols of commercialism: how they entice you to buy points, the quests that keep you more and more, and those nagging reminders that you have not paid enough attention to Friend A, who in this instance is played by the actual Friend A.

Sims Social plays on our desire for more human interaction on the web. The datasphere according to Rushkoff is “the new territory for human interaction, economic expansion, and especially social and political machination” (4).

Human interaction. Check. Economic expansion, you bet (my currency may be low, but my house value is great!). Social and political machination? You bet (Sorry friend J. I constantly put spiders in your toilet.)

Now back to me gaining skills on my Haunted Typing Machine-Thing.


8 Responses to “Media Viruses and My Addiction to Sims Social.”

  1. Chuck Cage said

    Rushkoff spends a lot of time looking at how various groups can use “media viruses” to promote their agendas, but it seems to me that this is another area where Media Virus! shows its age. Sure, social media now provides a new way for distributing classic news items — like a “news story” or “article” — but in the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of other online social interactions, all of which seem capable of carrying the modern equivalent of Rushkoff’s viruses. As you point out, gaming is a big example of this.

    I’d be interested in hearing your experiences in terms of whether or not you’ve experienced anything you can identify as one of these viruses in various online play. I can think of a few example, but I wonder how apt they are. The product placement in GTA comes to mind, as does the sort of inverted morality of scoring in Bioshock. It seems to me that the increased player involvement (ability to change — if only slightly — the storyline, etc.) might make these perfect “shells” for political or moral viral payloads.

    Your thoughts? 🙂

    • creativetaboo said

      Yeah, both Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock come to mind for me too. GTA has a unique ability to enter the sphere of reality, with some of their recent advertising campaigns on city streets with QR codes. The potency potential of a media virus in gaming comes from the user’s ability to control their own destiny. Sims does this in a very blatant way, though I find it interesting that they have added many more barriers than the original (for example, the many ways you could kill off a character in the original). Bioshock or GTA use more subtle plays on morality to spread the virus.

  2. tleboyce said

    I actually laughed when I read your addition to The Sims because I used to be a huge fan of The Sims. I was surprised that I didn’t know about Sims Social on Facebook. Maybe it is because I don’t use Facebook a lot, but if I did, I would have be an addict to Sims Social. I am not a fan of Facebook or its games, but I wonder why a lot of my friends always spend a huge amount of time on Facebook, and in the same case of The Sims and Sims Social, how come people drop Myspace to come to Facebook. As you mentioned, people jumped into Sims Social because of the past experience and the familiar reflection of our own lives. I think this hypothesis applies to Myspace/Facebook case as well because people can see that Facebook is another social network site, which might be considered the same as Myspace, yet more “trendy.” Moreover, I think it is the path of desire when we want to try out new things and still want to stick with what makes us feel comfortable. Sims Social does a good job making us associate the familiarity of the brand and the way it reflects our lives through the game. Overall, I like your post, and it makes me giggle because I realize I am not the only one who kills my Sims when I’m bored.

    • creativetaboo said

      Hm, you’re going to have me thinking a long time about why people joined Facebook over Myspace. Facebook was a whole different beast than Myspace, but it flaunted features that user’s craved, like the fact the Sims Social presents the idea that anyone can play, since everyone is on Facebook.

  3. technopaul said

    Growing up I played a lot of video games, but when I was 13 or 14 I stopped altogether. I have never played online games because I never understood it. But after you explained is has a source of social interaction, I can see why it is popular. I think to contract this “virus” you have to be a particular type of person– a gamer. Every so often I want to play some old computer games like The Sims or Rollercoaster Tycoon, but never a MMOG.

    I would tend to agree that media events are viruses, because they are seemingly physical objects that invade, affect and change us.

    • creativetaboo said

      The term “gamer” gets me a bit riled, mostly because I think that term has grown to mean so many different things, and yet we still consider the gamer as the anti-social man in his mom’s basement. The type of games I played as a child, when I devoted much more time to it, is not the same type of game I play today. I played MMOs as an early teenager because of both the social aspect and the anonymity, something that was mentioned heavily in The Guild. But the age of social gaming means that I can’t hide behind an avatar; my online presence is my own and I have no choice but to embrace it. That being said, as I mentioned in response to Laura, the half-life on the Facebook Social Game is significantly lower than any other game I’ve played.

  4. It’s interesting that you (and many others, I’m sure) are already habitually addicted to Sims Social, yet I was largely unaware of it’s existence. As someone who played Sims heavily at a younger age, new developments in the Sims community seem to play on nostalgic tendencies, but in bad ways (for me, at least). I have largely convinced myself that I have “moved on” from a Sims phase, so any new developments within the franchise seem irrelevant. While you argue that it catches on easily due to it’s familiarity, this may be a reason why I have not interacted with the interface. Rushkoff argues that if “We do not recognize the image, we cannot respond automatically to it. Our interest and fascination is a sign that we are not culturally “immune” to the new virus.” Because Sims is already a well established virus among our generation, our social resiliency to the virus may have already been established–slowing, or accelerating it’s presence depending on various subcultures. These theories are ultimately extremely fluid and can be used to analyze different perspectives on media objects.
    Although, I could just be making generalizations about how I think I might react to the game. If I actually played it and some nostalgic happiness was resurrected, my opinion may change.

    • creativetaboo said

      While it hit many of the same chords as the original Sims social was a short life cycle for me. I have since now moved on, because I felt that the “social” aspects of the game were played far too heavily than in the original. In Sims, you control how social or unsocial you choose to play the game. In the Facebook version, your success is solely on the social elements. This reminded me of my frustrations with previous Facebook game Farmville, it was so focused on “community” that it became draining. It is in this short life cycle that I see our immunity to the virus, we are more likely to move on faster from this version of the game than the original, but we will still draw towards it because of the nostalgia factor.

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