Recently, I reluctantly signed up for Facebook. The site’s grown too large for me to ignore it any longer—and Lord knows I have tried. Part of the reason I joined is because Facebook has become a huge platform for the delivery of games. Several people I know don't consider themselves gamers, yet they play Facebook games on a regular basis, mostly to maintain their farms in Zynga’s FarmVille and aquariums in CrowdStar’s Happy Aquarium.
These real-time simulation games’ immense popularity and diverse audiences make them especially interesting to NCHEG. They mark a significant change in the way people play, learn, and relate to each other. They also represent a type of game play that has prompted numerous criticisms.
Some professional game developers have dismissed these games as glorified spreadsheets. In a recent conversation, NCHEG advisor Don Daglow half-joked with me that he could immediately cause passionate arguments at any table of game professionals by simply walking over to them and saying one word, “FarmVille”. Critics lambaste the use of virtual cash and micro transactions within the game, warning that it targets “young people to spend real money” or tricks users into subscribing to various services in return for virtual currency. The latter charge has earned FarmVille a “Controversy” content section in Wikipedia.
There is no doubt, though, that lots of people love these games. My eight-year-old daughter’s recent request for her own Facebook account is a case in point. It prompted a fervent discussion during which she experienced all five stages of grief within one Saturday. She spent much more time on the "anger” and “bargaining” stages than I would have preferred, but eventually we got to “acceptance.” And she now understands that Facebook is for those humans who have taken at least thirteen trips around the sun.
What is pertinent about all of that here is that she wanted a Facebook account for two reasons. First, she said she really likes to play Farmville and Happy Aquarium, which I completely understand. The themes and aesthetics of these games, which are enjoyed by players of all ages, appeal strongly to tweens. Secondly, she declared, “All my friends have Facebook.” If I were her age and I saw my mother or father or even grandmother playing these games, I’d feel short-changed as well. But in response to her request for Facebook as a necessary avenue to the games, I found myself repeating phrases I sworn I’d never use with my child: “If so-and-so’s mother let her play with razor blades….”
Kiley (she'll get over it)
Through both informal observation and surveying, I know that many children younger than thirteen years have Facebook accounts, and the reason is primarily so they can play games that are unavailable on other platforms. I understand why some parents allow this, but I chose not to capitulate for a few reasons. Although Facebook has lowered its minimum age to thirteen, it remains largely an adult social networking platform. I cannot limit the language or content my daughter would see on Facebook and I certainly cannot monitor her every interaction. I also find it unfair to expect adults to limit or monitor their conversations knowing there are “uninvited kids in the room.” Most importantly, my wife and I concur that letting our daughter lie about her age to gain access to a desirable product sets a bad precedent.
Although my daughter got over her disappointment quickly—I haven’t heard a peep about the subject since—the conversation has stuck with me. It is unfortunate that these games are not available to children under thirteen through some other means. Unlike the long-standing issue of children playing age-inappropriate games, the problem here is that these games are age appropriate but are unavailable because of age restrictions set by the delivery system.
In the future I’d love to see these games accessible through a different venue for children of all ages. Until then I’d appreciate feedback from our readers. Please answer the survey questions below (I promise anonymity!) and give us your comments and opinions on these Facebook issues.