You may have already read Leigh Alexander’s damn-near definitive recounting of Ian Bogost’s satirical Facebook game Cow Clicker right here at Kotaku. But all the same, the world could use another piece about the man and his work, especially if that piece is as clever as the one that Wired just ran.
Titled “The Curse of Cow Clicker: How a Cheeky Satire Became a video game Hit,” the article traces through the origin of the game into an analysis of what Bogost was saying with his satirical game.
And then something surprising happened: Cow Clicker caught fire. The inherent virality of the game mechanics Bogost had mimicked, combined with the publicity, helped spread it well beyond its initial audience of game-industry insiders. Bogost watched in surprise and with a bit of alarm as the number of players grew consistently, from 5,000 soon after launch to 20,000 a few weeks later and then to 50,000 by early September. And not all of those people appeared to be in on the joke. The game received its fair share of five-star and one-star reviews from players who, respectively, appreciated the gag or simply thought the game was stupid. But what was startling was the occasional middling review from someone who treated Cow Clicker not as an acid commentary but as just another social game. “OK, not great though,” one earnest example read.
In fact, despite itself, Cow Clicker was perversely enjoyable. The cartoon cow was cute, with a boxy nose and nonplussed expression. After every click, it emitted a satisfying moo. The game may have been dumb and even mean. But it was also, for some reason that resisted easy explanation, kind of appealing.
It’s a great read, to be sure, but what makes it so much fun is the (not-so) secret game hidden within the article. It’s called “Cowpocalypse!” and it requires you to find and click on each of the 97 instances of the word “Cow” in the article. Each time you do that, a cow pops up on the text. In order to get rid of it, you have to allow the game access to your Facebook profile, after which point you can “send” the cow to one of your friends, along with a message promoting the article.
It’s a brilliant bit of self-serving self-parody and commentary. “Cowpocalypse!” lampoons the very thing that Facebook games do with such annoying consistency: It blocks access to the article until you act, and uses readers’ enthusiasm for a fun gimmick to turn them unwitting promotional agents for the publication.
Bogost tells me that the idea was dreamt up by Wired staffer Shannon Perkins, who also came up with Cutthroat Captalism: The Game. Well done, Mr. Perkins. Well done.
Head on over there, read the article, and enjoy the cows. Your friends will thank you.
Wait, I mean, “Your friends will unfriend you.”