Personally, it’s hard not to get a little excited when I see a red balloon in my notifications drop-down menu on Facebook. It means somebody is interacting with me. At a put purely emotional level, it means somebody is noticing me. The first thing that rushes into my head is that one of my friends posted a link to a YouTube video on my wall, I got tagged in an awful picture from last weekend, or I was invited to an “18+ PARTY AT A FRAT HOUSE!!” Regardless, though, somebody thought of me when they were on the internet and decided to include me in on the fun.
Now, here’s where the caveat comes in. Imagine, it’s not one of the above forms of notifications. Instead, it’s an invitation to play Farmville, Candy Crush, or Bejeweled Blitz and it’s coming from someone you don’t even talk to on a regular basis — a peripheral friend. This is when my excitement for that red notification balloon wanes. The problem itself is two sided: on the user side and on the game-developer side.
The Two Sides:
First, to explain the background of this pet peeve, it’s necessary to understand the game-developer side of the issue. I’m going to take the game Farmville, a huge Facebook fad from the past few years that has 40 million monthly players, and dissect it into it’s core aspects.
The game, for those unfamiliar with the popular title, is created to virtually simulate the experience of working on and managing a farm. This experience comes complete with tending and harvesting crops, herding cattle, and visiting and assisting friends’ farms. It’s this last task that’s the sticking point. The developers have created a need for users to force their friends to play the game. If users can get more neighboring farms, they get more theoretical points, and move farther along in the game to attain a more desirable farm. It’s quite a good business plan for the game developer, but an annoyance for anybody not wanting to waste time with virtual agriculture.
This obviously leads into the user side of the problem. If they want to play the game and have a fighting chance to have one of the best farms on the platform, they have to invite more and more of their friends to become their neighbors. Thus, they just scroll through their available friends list and, in my anecdotal experience, create a select-all invitation to join the game.
Now, the question becomes why is this bothersome? Surely, being duped by a notification balloon isn’t going to ruin a day, but it does boil down into something more — being offended by selfishness. It becomes easier to understand in the following analogy:
Imagine somebody’s running for a position in which they need to be elected. They’re probably going to tend to be nicer and a better friend to you than they normally would because they want your vote — they want something from you. The same holds true with games like Farmville. They’re not inviting people to play the game because they’re trying to form camaraderie around a similar activity. Instead, they’re inviting you because they need your farm as their neighbor in order to gain more success in the game. Continuing along, why should they stop with only their few, close friends on Facebook if they can cast their net across all their 574 acquaintances? It’s exasperating to know that the only reason somebody is inviting you to play is because they can do so simply by the press of a button.
When the telephone was new, articles criticized ordinary people who called New York City’s mayor regularly, simply because they now could.
Similar to how the ease of the phone allowed for users to reach individuals who they might not even approach if they were to encounter them in the offline world, the ease of the “invite” button (fueled by a semi-subconscious selfish desire to win at a game) has appropriated for peripheral friends to cast their net out to their whole list of connections. It creates a lack of authenticity in the friendship. It’s not about maintaing a relationship. It’s about getting something from them, in this case, a virtual farm neighbor.
Obviously, it would be irrational to think that these types of games and these types of interactions are just going to stop. But is it too much to ask for people to only send these types of invites to close friends? The developers aren’t going to stop creating social games this way, but users should become aware of the power of the invite button. If I connected with you on Facebook because you were my Kindergarten teacher, this obviously means I’m not friending you because we’re extremely close. So, stop pretending and stop sending me game invites.