A Cow Clicker Economy

TOWER GROVE — It is virtually impossible to keep up with all the memes and themes in my little seamhead corner of the Internet, and so it was with some embarrassment that I plucked a copy of Wired off the rack yesterday and thumbed my way to a story on a fad I knew little about, Cow Clicker.

I had seen the cows around Facebook or scattered on other dot-com pastures. I had no idea what they were.

Jason Tanz’s article charts how Cow Clicker’s inventor, Ian Bogost, set out to parody online games like Farmville only to accidentally find success alongside the repetitive-clicking games he sought to mock. Cow Clicker is what it says it is. Simply, clicking cows. The more often you click your cow, the more rewards you earn. You can add friends to your pasture so that their clicks are now your clicks, and that, as the article points out, led to some unexpected strategy in this rudimentary game: Recruiting the best clickers to your online pasture became competitive. Early in the article, Bogost’s belief that video games can do more than invite clicks, they can indeed enact change is set forth: “He sees them as tools to educate and enlighten,” Tanz writes, “to ‘disrupt and change fundamental attitudes and beliefs about the world.’”

Nestled far deeper into the article is where that belief leads.

It’s called “gamification” and we see it everywhere. What are frequent buyer programs but games for businesses to give the consumer a sense of accomplishment? In the article, it points out that Google News now has badges. I know that several of my friends collect badges on their iPhone for the beers they’ve had. (I can go right now to Untappd and see that someone I do not know is drinking a beer I do not recognize to earn a badge I’ve never heard of. Cheers!) On Klout, we are rewarded for regular visits as if following a link is some sort of achievement. This will be my 10th entry here at WordPress and when I press publish the little sidebar will give me a pat on the back for reaching another milestone. I plan to put this latest virtual merit badge on my virtual sash in hopes that someday I’ll virtually pass it on to my son as a virtual heirloom. On thousands of Facebook games, we’re given points for keeping up routines such as watering crops, plucking carrots, challenging friends to a soccer game, paying actual money, and … oh, wait, if you’ll excuse my 20 minutes is up and I really need that +5 training points on the new baseball game or my team is going to be too weak to play today.

Phew. Just made it.

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