I’m trying to scale back on my Facebook time. As I said in an earlier post, I find the site curiously addictive, but I think I let things get a little out of hand. (Thank god Scrabulous went away — talk about a time sink!)
Anyway, all the time I’ve spent on Facebook got me confused and enthused about something:
When did life — I mean REAL life, not game life — become all about “leveling up”?
Dungeons & Dragons really has taken over the world, in ways Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson never could have predicted.
Sure, there’s always been an element in life of “I make more money than you do, so I win!” or “My house is bigger than yours” or “My car goes faster than yours (not that I’ll ever see that kind of speed in real life).”
But what’s really brought home for me the reality of “Life as Leveling” is the ascendancy of Facebook and, to a lesser extent, World of Warcraft (a pastime I gave up a while back — though the lovely wife, Caroline, is still well and truly hooked, keeping it in the forefront of my thinking).
WoW‘s D&D-ness is obvious. Yeah, yeah, it’s all about community. Sure, it’s about cooperating with friends to accomplish goals together. Whatever. Cut past all the stuff and nonsense and it’s about “I’m level 70 and you’re not.” It’s about achieving vicariously, virtually, a “level” of success most of us will never achieve in life. And then, most important, it’s about lording it over our friends.
In other words, WoW‘s a little obvious in its game-ness (it’s a game, after all!) and in its D&D-ness. But Facebook… Ah, Facebook. That’s something different. It has its non-leveling uses, to be sure. It is a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and reconnecting with schoolmates you haven’t thought about in years. But let’s be honest — if that was it, would millions of us care? We could accomplish most of that by writing letters or picking up a phone. Facebook offers far, far more than that — and that “more” is D&D-ness.
Facebook turns community into currency. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over the last few months that sound something like this:
“Darn. You have more friends than me.”
“How did you get to be level 54 in Packrat?”
“How much money do you have in Parking Wars?”
“Damn. I’m only ranked 10,000,000 in the world in the movie quiz.”
Much of the Facebook experience (like World of Warcraft and, let’s not forget, high school) is about status. And status, in this case, is measured in concrete terms not unlike a traditional roleplaying game.
I realize I’m sounding pretty negative about this but, mostly, I find this phenomenon odd — and oddly comforting. I mean, at least leveling is a mechanism I understand, unlike a lot of social stuff.
And speaking of social stuff, would someone please clue me in on Facebook etiquette? I’m thinking specifically about all the folks you’ve never heard of who want to be your friend. My first instinct is to say, “Sure, let’s be virtual friends.” What’s the harm in establishing a virtual connection with a fan or with a friend of a friend of a friend? But then I start thinking about the fact that accepting someone you don’t know gives that someone access to the profiles of every other someone you know and that kind of freaks me out. So what do you do? Ignore folks you don’t know and look like a jerk or a snob? Let everyone into the fold and dilute the value of “true” friendship (or as close at you can get online)? I’m kerflummoxed. Help!
Beyond that, I’m still wrestling with whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing (or just a thing) that the world — at least the part of it on Facebook — knows I’m having lunch with my sister at the Museum of Modern Art in New York… or awake at 2 a.m. stealing stuff from my wife and friends in Packrat… or just generally feeling good about myself…
Bottom line — I get World of Warcraft. It’s a game. You play it. You level up. You get cool stuff. It has a social component lacking from singleplayer games. Rah, rah, rah. Not so different from games of thousands of years ago. Facebook, though… Facebook, this thing I don’t quite understand, is a real agent of change in the world. And I don’t have a handle on the rules of this non-game. Still, I’m enjoying playing. So far.