In a previous post I discussed A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz’s suggestion that we play Farmville because we’re polite. Farmville, he argues, is a cooperative game; one needs help from others to get very far.  So you are invited to play by friends, entreated to assist them, and given gifts to encourage your participation.  The game “entangles users in a web of social obligations,” to the point where not playing would be rude or signal an effort to distance oneself from your friends who play.

Well Farmville is old news. Cityville was launched on November 18th, 2010.  Within 24 hours it had 290,000 players.  Within one month it had 84 million players, exceeding the total number playing Farmville, previously the most popular web-based game ever.  Today, more than 100 million people play Cityville.  And I’m one of them.

Well not really.  Bored on a plane flight over the holidays and enjoying free wifi on the plane, I decided to check it out.  And, despite expecting that there was a highly social dimension to the game, I was amazed — ah-mazed — at the pace at which Cityville asked me to publicize my participation and get others to join.  Below are the kinds of entreaties I received every 20 seconds or so.

Each time I achieved a “goal” Cityville suggested that I tell everyone and share coins with friends.  Here are four examples:

Sometimes Cityville would suggest that I get friends “started” by sending them gifts or help them with a city they’ve already got:

It also suggested that I add neighbors and populate my own city with my friends in various roles:

You can also visit your friends’ cities, help them out (e.g., harvest for them), or own businesses in their cities.  All of this earns both of you points of various kinds.

In fact, Cityville would only let me do certain things if my friends helped me do them:

Cityville also told me which of my friends were playing…

Then, despite having at no time clicking on “share” anything, Facebook put the news that I was playing Cityville on my wall (it was probably in the “I agree” contract at the very beginning).  Gwen was predictably surprised:

Finally, after about a week, Cityville got directly into my email inbox to tempt me to play again with FREE CASH!.

So there you have it. Cityville implores, pleads, begs, insists, threatens, and cajoles the user into getting their friends involved. It’s an insidious social network parasite… and it’s contagious…

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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