The new “CSI: Crime City” game on Facebook is a great example of how social network games are really “dumbing down” traditional digital games to make the games accessible to the average user. (Social network games are games that delivered on existing social network platforms such as Facebook). CSI and other crime-solving themes have been made into games before, but thisgame is different in that the game-play is extremely simple, benefits are gained from cooperative play with friends, there are customization elements, the game requires you to return after a certain period of time, and you can buy virtual items with real money. These are all characteristics that have become extremely common in many social network games.
In essence, this game does not require any intelligence to play, as is with most social network games. Relying on very simple mechanisms such as clicking, this game is an extremely low barrier for non-game players. This doesn’t make the game terribly exciting, but I like the accessibility aspect; until now, games have been difficult for people to play without feeling burdened. Many people play games to feel excitement, arousal, or entertainment, and the problem with hard-core games (the traditional console and PC games) was that it was difficult to go through a level without feeling frustration due to lack of gaming ability. And I’m not talking about first-person shooters or complicated strategy games. Even games like Super Mario require a lot of skill. Perhaps that is why I chose to play adventure games or puzzle games– simply because I hated losing and I liked games that made me think.
Casual games really lowered the threshold in terms of making games easier. For example, in the “hardcore” adventure game such as Myst, there were no hints, no linear story. In more recent adventure games, however, such as Return to Ravenhearst, we see adventure games incorporating mini-game elements such as finding hidden objects. In CSI: Crime City, the game-play is even easier, you just click on a tile on the floor to “investigate” the scene. It’s very different from the PC game, which requires that you know which tools to use to examine forensic evidence.
Although this particular game isn’t terribly interesting to me (since I’ve been playing games for a long time) I think this is a great way to get non-players started on games, to let them know that games are not intimidating and that they can be quite enjoyable. Perhaps after playing these simple games on Facebook, people will want to play more complicated games. But even if they don’t, I like the idea of digital gaming as becoming a mass culture. It’s kind of like board games: some play Chutes and Ladders, some play Risk. There is no such thing as a better game, the games have varying levels of complexity, so we can all be gamers.