Earlier this month, I was out for drinks with colleagues. Most of us are friends on FaceBook as well as in real life. A new colleague, Marylena, mentioned that one of her favorite things to do on FaceBook is play Parking Wars. Her sheepish description of the game was not particularly intriguing but because I’m always interested in the games people play, I decide that I would check it out. And once I had played for a few days, I invited some other friends to play as well. Now I’m addicted.
The game is an advertisement for an A&E channel show, also called Parking Wars. I have never seen the show and playing the game doesn’t make me want to go watch the show. So although I think the game is successful as a game, I’m not so sure it’s successful as an advertisement.
Here’s how the game is played. The premise is that you are in charge of a street with five spaces on it. Some of the five spaces do not allow parking. Some allow parking for only cars of a certain color. And some might allow parking for cars of any color. The arrangement of these five spaces changes at random. In addition, you have some cars of your own that you need to park. You can’t park them on your own streets. Instead, you have to park them on the streets of your friends (of course, only those friends who have also installed the Parking Wars application) and two strangers. For every minute that your car is parked on a particular street, the car gains monetary value. When you move the car from one spot to another, you earn the value of that car at that moment. You also earn money if you catch someone parked illegally on your street–you ticket them and you earn the amount that the car is worth at the time of ticketing. Of course, if it is your car that is ticketed, you lose the amount that the car is worth at the time of ticketing.
When I first started playing Parking Wars, my only FaceBook friend who was playing was Marylena. So I could park on her street and on the streets of two strangers. I installed the application, parked my two cars and then promptly forgot about the application. A few days later, I received a FaceBook message from Marylena telling me that there were cars parked illegally on my street just waiting for me to ticket them. I’ve been hooked on the game ever since. I went to the game, ticketed Marylena, got the money from those tickets and became a Parking Pro (I had been a Parking Amateur up to that point). I also was able to purchase a third car, which allowed me to start earning more money. That act of altruism on Marylena’s part stuck with me because it hooked me on the game. After playing for a few days with only three streets to park on, I realized that the game would be much more fun if I had more streets to choose from. So I invited my closest FaceBook friends (who are my closest friends in real life–go figure) to play the game. Within hours, I had seven streets to park on and the game was even more fun.
As my friends became acquainted with Parking Wars, I watched them move from Parking Amateurs to Parking Pros. I explained how the game worked. And I engaged in the same sort of altruism with them that Marylena had shown toward me. I parked illegally on their streets, simply so they could earn some money and thus, become hooked on the game.
Today, I was explaining this game to Evelyn. I mentioned the altruism because I had been somewhat uncomfortable with the part of the game that tempts you to park illegally if you can get away with it. I thought the altruism redeemed this troubling aspect of the game somewhat. Evelyn pointed out to me that the altruism sounded like the kind of altruism that heroin dealers show to potential new clients. They give away a taste of the heroin for free, hoping to capture their new clients in addiction so that they become lifelong customers. She’s absolutely right in making this comparison. I was trying to get my friends addicted to the game by giving them a taste of what the game has to offer. Their long-term addiction was worth the short-term hit to my current cash level because in the long run, it’s good to have more people to play with.
So games really are like drugs! They both give us the same little jolt of pleasure in our brains.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.