I have been playing these games on Facebook. Specifically, Pirates: Rule the Caribbean, and Mafia Wars. They are made and run by a company called Zynga
The games follow a very definitive format, whereby you gain experience by performing tasks to advance to higher levels. The tasks are practical, social, and perpetual. An example of a practical task would be to rob a merchant ship (in Pirates). You do the job, you get the experience points. You can do the same job multiple times and gain new levels of mastery, eventually reaching the final level of mastery. After that, you don't necessarily have to ever do that job again. There are, after all, higher levels with greater rewards. But you could do the job again. You see, some jobs have a chance of "dropping" special prizes when you do them. So you can go back to a job to collect a whole set of these special prizes. That is how the game perpetuates itself on all levels.
Finally, there is the social level. Simply put, you play the game with friends, and make new friends by playing the games. you invite them to become members of your crew, and crew members give each other gifts and help each other out on tasks.
You get a certain amount of "energy" that can be depleted each day. When your energy is depleted, you have to wait for more. Also, whenever you master a task or go up a level, through the experience points you gain, your energy is automatically replenished. The game can be as simple or as complex as you make it, with your own activity levels.
I was playing, this morning, when it occurred to me what a great model for one's own growth, in life, these games might represent.
Let's play a game called "Renaissance", where your overall goal is to become a well-rounded, skilled artist.
On level one, which we will call "dullard", you have activities like "Listen to a track off a CD by an artist you've never listened to" and "Spend ten minutes photographing a single subject". You perform these tasks ten times in a week, and you get to "level up". On the next level, the "effete", you have to write a review about a CD or spend an hour with a coffee table book by a single photographer and journal or try to recreate on of their shots. Eventually, the tasks turn into things like "compose a song" and "submit a portfolio or your own work to a contest or gallery".
And you can, and must, invite your friends to participate. They can gift you with feedback or networking contacts. And making new friends is all part of the game. By Level 10, for example, one member of your crew should be a published or recognized artist in their field.
Slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop taught us. We have been spoiled by reality television and the culture of immediate success and crash-and-burn that it promotes. Fame has become its own task, practically independent of skill and determination. The folks at Zynga have the right idea, whether or not they intended it to be a life lesson. Setting ourselves up with a list of tasks, on tiers of difficulty, and playing a little everyday, as much as our energy will allow, is the best way for us to accomplish anything.
Now let's play, and become addicted to, a game called "Life".