Cow Clicker: a Fountain for a New Generation of Online Gaming?
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 06-08-11
Screenshot of Spring from Bogost's chapbook, A Slow Year
Image Source

Previously on, we posed this question: whether Marx remains inescapable to the formulations of subversion fundamental to the survival of an avant-garde in the present day. Certainly, structuring a leftist mode of critical thought in an era, no longer modern and no longer even post-modern and increasingly defined by the reaches of interconnectivity and globalization, poses numerous difficulties. What, for instance, truly belongs in the scope of the avant-garde? And can an avant-garde retain its potency in both intention and practice? Fortunately, however, we can still find reminders that proto-Marxist investigations are as paramount today as they have been during the last century. And avant-gardists lurk in the least expected spaces.

Ian Bogost, professor from Georgia Tech, is responsible for creating the increasingly popular and beguiling new Facebook game--Cow Clicker, "a game about Facebook games." The game's premise is comically simple. Every six hours the player must 'click' on a cow to receive points. These points can later be exchanged for a differently colored cow or other 'rewards' of a similar nature. There is no distinct end to gameplay. There is nothing for the player to accomplish, only an endless string of clicks to look forward to. Yes. It is meta; but, it is also the latest cultural object to put all objects of it's kind to shame, e.g. Farm Ville--another Facebook game that, according to Bogost, offers no challenges and charges very real bank accounts for ultimately worthless hours.

Not only does Bogost take pleasure in composing 'chapbooks' of so called 'game poems,' which are, in fact, video games, written in a retro aesthetic for consoles that prefer small file sizes such as the now near extinct Atari. Size is important to Bogost, primarily be size of his insistence on personally controlling every aspect of these poems' production. And this is exactly what poesis entails. A poet, by his being a poet, cannot be a laborer. And Bogost's games do not fall within the latter of Arendt's capitalist work-time / entertainment-time paradigm. It is perhaps, in this, that Cow Clicker shares a quality of avant-gardist insurrection with Duchamp's Fountain (1917).

Timothy Morton, English professor at UC Davis, recently blogged on the supposed parallel between Fountain and Cow Clicker. The latter, he writes, "is working with much more basic elements of human and to that extent it's much more sophisticated." He may be right. But, in any case, both men set out to crack a joke at the expense of a dominant institution they believe to be hollow and destitute of meaning. Bogost advertises his app (it costs $0.99) with this introduction:

"Cow Clicker Moobile lets you click your cow on the moove. Just open it up and click your cow every six hours on your iDevice. Want to click more often? No problem, just make sure your Cow Clicker account is engorged with mooney and skip your click timer right from the app! ...

...Attention collectors! When you buy Cow Clicker Moobile, you'll get amspecial, limited-edition cow after your first click. You can obtain it by purchasing this app!"

Bogost's appealing, even endearing, line of criticism stems from the seemingly inescapable fact that despite our best efforts at interrogating our socio-economic environment, we remain endlessly gratified and mystified by the value-less "click" through the tundra of the Internet: " Maybe it takes a ridiculous cow game to remind us just how weird modern life has become, and how easily we've adopted our newfound home beyond the looking glass."

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