Cow Clicker, now in its second year, is a wonderpressingly* thorough parody of FarmVille and other compulsion-driven Facebook games. Install the app like any other Facebook game, and you get a cow to click once every six hours.
You can buy different cow avatars, share your clicks on your wall, click your friends’ cows, and buy (with actual money) the chance to click more often. There’s also an ominous countdown to a self-destruct that you can delay by spending Facebook credits (which you buy with actual money), a mockery of the blatant greed of game makers like Zynga.
In other words, it’s an obvious waste of time. And yet compulsion will easily drive you to spend a half hour maxing out your clicks or playing the Bejeweled parody minigame. You might even briefly consider spending some leftover Facebook credits on this bullshit.
And that’s the point. Creator Ian Bogost was recently republished in the Atlantic saying that gamification — the popular notion of driving citizen/consumer behavior with a series of point-based “games” — is bullshit and should be renamed “exploitationware”.
As other gaming bloggers have noticed, Facebook gaming is dominated by exploitationware. Though the platform is useful for more rewarding types of games (where actual decisions impact the game, not just waiting for the next click), it’s particularly perfect for compulsion games — and that might be an indictment of Facebook itself, with its steady drip of bland status updates, out of which the occasional item appears and rewards our brains for a moment, before we crawl around looking for the next kick.
At least one of my friends has clicked the cow in the satirical game over a thousand times.
*wonderful yet depressing, duh