A couple days ago, I started seeing people I follow on Twitter getting assassinated. My first inclination was to find out what I needed to do to start assassinating people myself. And so I signed up for Spymaster.
Let me start by saying that I've never joined into any of the social games, like Mafia Wars, on Facebook. But honestly, I have given up on Facebook for the most part, and Spymaster is run through Twitter where I spend an inordinate amount of time (thus the two weeks since I've blogged anything...). Immediately I saw complaints in my twitterstream on the Spymaster spam (yep, its annoying) and naysayers touting it as a waste of time. Still, there were a few people I wanted to assassinate and so I signed up anyway.
Spymaster is not a learning game. But it is a game run in conjunction with a social media outlet, and a lot of my Twitter friends (who I think are really smart people) were definitely engaged. So for the last two days, I've played Spymaster. Here are my observations and conclusions:
- Yes, incentivized spam is annoying: Spymaster rewards players for posting a variety of updates on Twitter. The more you play, the more annoying this is for your followers who don't care if you just wounded @spydeesense or if you just bought a new safe house in Rio. But the temptation is there to post these things, since the game "pays" you for each update posted. This is probably the worst design feature, and although the updates can be turned off, the incentives make you think about it before finally deciding that a few "rubles" or "pounds" aren't worth the followers you're going to irritate.
- Its fun to assassinate your friends (and people you don't know, too): People are competitive. Social games feed the need for competition in a communal way, and a social media tool like Twitter is an interesting format for combining social technology with gaming. Its been done with Facebook, it'll be done with other social media tools too. Wherever people gather socially, people will be inclined to play games.
- But can it be used for learning?: The question I always come back to is how can the engagement that is garnered through games be translated into learning experiences? Most games actually do teach something, its just not explicit. A lot of games for learning somewhere along the way lose the thing that makes people want to play them: they lose the fun.
Spymaster, on the surface, is a simple game of accumulation and leveling up: assassinate people and perform tasks to make money and gain experience, allowing you to level up and more easily assassinate people and perform more complicated tasks. There incentive to get your Twitter friends to join the game to make your assassinations stronger. There's an economy of purchasing weapons, buying safe houses, and "saving" money in a Swiss bank account.
But the real "game" is the strategy in determining HOW you're going to level up. Do you focus on assassinations, or performing tasks? How much risk do you take on? How important is it to get your friends to become spymasters in your network? Is it better to try to assassinate your friends, or strangers? How do you pace yourself so you don't lose all your energy? Ok, granted, the content of Spymaster isn't particularly useful for anything I do in my day to day life (although based on my performance in the game, I would make an excellent Russian spy). But what if the content were a bit more "serious"? Could this same format be used to teach job performance content? Could it be used as an assessment technique? I think there are any number of potential uses of social games for learning...and sadly, very few have yet been seen or taken seriously.
I've lately been focused on ARGs as the next wave of games for learning. But social media games may be another viable model for learning, and a market full of immersive, engaging learning possibilities. Now back to my safe house to plot the next assassination...