“Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs …”
-Einstein (Theory of Cosmic Religion)


The WeTopia game ( on Facebook provides a novel environment for the examination of the uses and gratifications (U&G) theory in an emerging new media context. The purpose of this study is to investigate the motivations at the intersection of social games and “social good networks” (Branston & Bush, 2010). The following literature review presents a list of gratifications which may be satisfied through the emerging medium of a social game unusually situated within a social good network. The paper concludes with a proposed set of questions developed for a future survey of the WeTopia game players and community members.

The theoretical background for this research is associated with the humanistic U&G theory which presupposes that individuals are motivated to actively choose media to gratify certain needs. The survey data will be used to determine the individual needs and expected versus actual gratifications received from playing this social game for social good. In offering members with a combination of informative, social and/or entertaining methods of engagement, the WeTopia game may satisfy multiple needs at once through a unique combination of passive awareness and active participation provided through both game play and game community.

About WeTopia

WeTopia is a social game playable through an internet browser and currently only available on the Facebook platform. The WeTopia game was launched in May 2010 and released for beta on November 30, 2011. In the game, players build a virtual city and use their Facebook connections to hire city staff members and construct special items. Players also harvest crops and collect goodwill through houses and shops located in their game community. This goodwill is the currency of WeTopia and allows players to purchase additional in-game market items (e.g. houses, shops, playgrounds or “joygrounds”, decorations, etc…). Through building and harvesting their virtual city, players accumulate “joy points” which can be spent on donations to real-world charities in order to make a real world difference. These real world differences are actual donations of food and clothing (Hernandez, 2012) to various needful areas in the United States, Haiti and Africa.

The aesthetic style of the game is ‘chibi’ sweet using characters with oversized heads and vibrant colors to create an adorable Utopian village. The upper portion of the game screen has various gauges and heads-up displays which indicate the player’s current levels and meters. Above the gauges and meters are seven tabs which provide the player with links to engage, communicate or find additional information about the game and the community. The “real impact” tab takes players to a Google map which not only highlights the areas of the world that have been positively affected by WeTopia but also provides an on-going tally of the donations which have been given to these areas on behalf of all the WeTopia players. Four of the remaining tabs are social in nature and allow the player to send gifts, invite friends, access the community message boards and review requests for assistance from other friends. The lower portion of the game screen displays all of the player’s neighbors (or friends in their social network) as well as links to perform additional actions such as visiting a neighbor’s WeTopia community. Easy access buttons are located on the bottom right of the screen. These buttons give players access to edit their community layout, donate joy, buy things at the market or recall items from storage. The left side of the screen lists all of the available quests which can be completed for more joy, items and/or experience points. Finally, the right side of the screen is used to highlight specific campaigns and limited time offers currently available to all game players.

Both experience and joy have attainable levels associated with them. Experience levels are based on the tasks performed in the game (harvesting and collecting) while joy levels are associated with the amount of joy given to charitable projects. Each level of joy is associated with a positive nickname (e.g. caregiver, joy, champion, etc…) and a reward for attaining that level. Currently, the highest level of joy attainable is level 50  but players may continue to give joy to charitable projects after reaching this level.

To encourage frequent and continued giving, WeTopia also offers special project buildings for each milestone a player meets (1k, 5k, 10k, 25k and 50k) in donating joy points to a single organization. The player can track his/her joy points through their joy meter which not only displays the amount of joy currently accumulated but also the amount of joy the player has donated over time. Joy points are donated virtually through the game interface by each player after they have selected which charity(s) to support. Energy is also tracked through a meter at the top of the screen and one energy point (used to perform the action of harvesting and collecting goodwill from buildings and crops) is freely given to the player every five minutes. Players may add more goodwill (increasing game currency) or energy points (extending game play) by purchasing these items in the market using Facebook credits. Facebook credits can be purchased with real money through Facebook or, less frequently, earned by watching video advertisements.

Throughout the game, players are encouraged to recruit others to join and learn more about the causes and charities which WeTopia supports. A highlight video for each active charity is also available at the in-game theater. Each video includes the option to share this information with others in one’s Facebook network which enables players to become active stewards of the social causes. Additional posts from the WeTopia Facebook page regarding social good achievements, news and game information may also show up in a community member’s Facebook news feed.

All of this works together to tell a compelling story of the good that has been or will be achieved through playing the game and donating joy or purchasing items in WeTopia. Interestingly, the developers of WeTopia have disclosed their preference for projects which are especially good at storytelling.

“We seek charitable partners that excel at telling their story through photos, videos, and social media.” –Sojo Studios

WeTopia is developed by Sojo Studios which is a for-profit, privately-held company that generates revenue from advertisers and the sale of virtual goods within the game. However, all of the causes and campaigns in the game are ostensibly linked to not-for-profit organizations helping children. The altruistic lure of helping children by playing a game is apparently appealing to humanitarian celebrities (and their publicists) as well. Both Ellen DeGeneres (Heinz, 2011) and Justin Bieber (JustinBeiber, 2011) publicly support WeTopia. Ellen DeGeneres has even offered to become virtual friends with other WeTopia players. In connection with the support provided by Ellen, limited-time, in-game items have been created with special “Ellen” branding and/or meaning.

Social games and Facebook

The Facebook platform could arguably be considered the largest social network on the internet. With a reported 901 million users (De La Merced, 2012), the Facebook network is larger than the population of North America (World Bank, 2010). Considering this membership statistic and Facebook’s inherent news and information posting system, the possibility of Facebook to influence social change could be compared to the power and influence the populace and media of a large country might have. If that is not enough to warrant investigation, Facebook is also an important network in the daily lives of these members as indicated by the 52 percent of its users who engage with their Facebook network every day (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011).  A survey commissioned for PopCap games also uncovered a large percentage of social game players who form long term attachments with their games. This survey by the Information Solutions Group (2010) found that 56 percent of the respondents in both the United States and the United Kingdom have played a social game on a social network for at least one year. Almost all (95 percent) of those same social gamers play these games multiple times a week with 34 percent stating that they are passionate enough to play several times a day (Information Solutions Group, 2010).

Unlike traditional video games, the expected gratifications for social games are considered less competitive and much more social or cooperative (Hou, 2011). The social nature of the games makes them inherently different from more traditional video games where competition is the predominant driving motivation. Posting requests for assistance and recruiting other players serves to develop cooperative relationships and foster community. Importantly and exciting for the game community which has frequently longed for ways to target women, females represent 55 percent of the social game players in the United States (Information Solutions Group, 2010) and account for 58 percent (Hampton et al., 2011) of social networking site users as well. It would not be surprising then to find that females may make up the majority of social game players for social good.

WeTopia is not the first or the only game for social good. Other social games with real-world philanthropic impacts include Food Force ( and Raise the Village ( A larger “Games For Change” movement encompasses these games for social good all of which support the hope that games, gamers and game communities can make positive differences in society. Researchers like Jane McGonigal believe that games can save the world (McGonigal, 2011) and others such as Ian Bogost believe in the persuasive nature of games to change the rhetoric of the players’ experience both inside and outside of the game environment (Bogost, 2007). The “Games For Change” movement strives to breakdown the ideological frame in the popular media of games as only entertainment machines by highlighting games for good including games which have been used to understand infectious disease control (Plenda, 2011) and ones used to restructure civic participation (Kahne, Middaugh, & Evans, 2006).

Social good networks

An appeal of playing a social game through Facebook can arguably be the availability of one’s pre-existing social network to help in progressing through the game. Branston and Bush (2010) coined the term “social good networks” to describe those social networks created to share information and ideas in the hopes of calling to action in the name of social good. Given the previous data in this literature review, it may come as no surprise that females also comprise the majority of social good network users. According to Branston and Bush (2010) the average social good network user is “female, white, well-educated and global.” Additionally, social good network users are engaged with their network, as evidenced by the 68 percent of the social good network users who stay regularly involved on at least a weekly basis (Branston & Bush, 2010).

However, not everyone is enthusiastic about ePhilanthropy and online activism. To some, e-activists perform these digital acts in order to make themselves feel important but, in reality, have little to zero social impact. Morozov (2009) is one such person who claims that the problem with contemporary digital activism (or “slacktivism” as Morozov coins it) is that the granularity of the act makes it too easy to gratify simple altruistic needs. That is, “you can donate a penny where you may otherwise donate a dollar” (Morozov, 2009). Eller (2008) looked at the early cousin of social good networks by examining solidarity websites which allow a user to click a button in order to donate online. An example of a solidarity website would be The Hunger Site ( which is similar in principle to WeTopia but lacks the interaction and reward system which the game so uniquely provides.

Exploring the intersection of social games and social good networks online

With little research on the impact of social games and related social good networks, little is known regarding their potential as immersive, online stewards of relationship building for offline cause marketing. Although the non-profit organizations aligning themselves with social game networks are not under analysis, information and data hypothesized in this research can be used to justify the use of social games as a non-traditional (but possibly lucrative and engaging) marketing channel. Additionally, the following data can be used to identify ways in which players may be influenced to actively participate by volunteering time, social resources and monetary donations. Hart (2001) began to drive home this point in an article on the early stirrings of the ePhilanthropy revolution by stating “non-profits can not only use the internet as a tool to raise money but also as a channel to create and improve relationships.”

However, Branston and Bush (2010) found that the least popular action on a social good network is in using it to find a volunteer opportunities or donate money. As WeTopia seemingly allows players to donate time through playing which, in turn, is used to fund real-world goods, it may be the case that WeTopia players and community members believe their playing is equivalent to volunteering and donating. Further investigation into specific uses and gratifications at the intersection of social games and social good networks are explored below.

Uses and Gratifications

U&G theory posits that individuals seek out particular media channels for certain uses in order to gratify certain needs. It has been used to explore the intent and consequences of media selection. It is a theory that expects the media consumer to actively engage in their media selection and, after thoughtfully considering alternatives, choose a particular media channel to gratify some purposeful need. In other words, it is a theory which supports the general free will of the audience. The historical trail of this theory has identified concepts and needs such as learning, surveillance, habit, companionship, escape from boredom, identification, arousal & relaxation (Hou, 2011; Joinson, 2008; Katz, 1959; Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974).

U&G theory provides operational definitions for the reasons why individuals use a particular media or medium. Specifically, this study is interested in the following motivations which WeTopia players may attribute to their game play:

The first motivation is information seeking.  Facebook has been considered a busy and opaque social-information system (Baresch, Knight, Harp, & Yaschur, 2011). According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project poll (Purcell, Rainie, Mitchell, Rosenstiel, & Olmstead, 2010), “75 percent [of the respondents surveyed] get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% share links to news with others via those means.”  These emergent news consumption strategies allow users to read and share information they feel is relevant, valuable, entertaining and insightful. In the new media landscape, a Facebook user has access to an anytime, anywhere, personalized news alert system. Thus the WeTopia game and its Facebook community can serve as a de facto news service for their community members. In the case of the WeTopia game, players may choose to play the game in order to stay abreast of news and information regarding causes for social good thus satisfying the gratification of information seeking.

A second motivation is entertainment. According to Hou (2011) “respondents played social games more frequently and became more engaged in different kinds of game activities for the purpose of diversion.” Diversion also predicted frequency of game play in the Hou (2011) study but was not a good indicator of duration of game play. This indicates that an individual may play the WeTopia game as a form of entertainment, relaxation or escape from boredom. Entertainment as motivation for media use is as old as the U&G theory itself (Katz, 1959) and seems an especially appropriate gratification to attribute to game play. Taking the results from Hou (2011) into consideration this research will hypothesize that the frequency of game play will be positively correlated to a psychological need to play games for entertainment. If the game were not fun then players would likely not return to the game even if returning meant an increase in social good.

A third motivation is for social purposes. This motivation involves social interaction, community building and the development of support systems. An individual may play the WeTopia game in order to increase their social network. This need and gratification was investigated in the Hou (2011) study which found that “social interaction predicted both frequency and duration of game playing.” Putnam (2000) points out that both bridging and bonding social capital has been found as a use and benefit of increasing the size of one’s interpersonal social network. Branston and Bush (2010) also found evidence that users are motivated to entice others to join their community. Eighty-six percent of the respondents in the Branston and Bush (2010) survey indicated agreement or strong agreement that social good networks makes them “feel that they are part of a larger effort to influence positive social change.” This exchange relationship is part of a larger communal relationship which is kept active and engaging through the development of social capital. In playing the WeTopia game, players may be using an unconventional media channel to increase their social network, social capital and social support system.

A fourth motivation is altruism. This motivation focuses on those players who play WeTopia in order to satisfy a humanitarian need to help those less fortunate. One could also argue that the enjoyment gained from playing the WeTopia game may be attributed to a motivation to entertain oneself but this research considers any act of altruism on its face. Ram (2002) interviewed users of a solidarity website (The Hunger Site) and found that they were motivated to click on these solidarity sites for altruistic purposes. “Clickers essentially donate for free, participating in a unique form of reciprocal altruism” (Ram, 2002). The altruistic nature the WeTopia game makes  findings for this measure of motivation especially interesting.

Based on this literature the following research questions and hypothesis will be investigated:

  • RQ1: Do WeTopia players receive a high level of gratification for each of the expected motivations?
  • RQ2: Do WeTopia players feel as if they have (a) volunteered or (b) donated to these social good causes through playing the game?
  • H1: Duration of game play is positively correlated to an ideological need to help the world (i.e. altruism).
  • H2: Frequency of game play is positively correlated to a psychological need to play games (i.e. entertainment).
  • H3: The majority of social game players for social good will be female.


The results of this study may be generalizable to a population of social games and their networks for social good on Facebook. The selective sample of WeTopia players and community members was chosen due both its popularity and its representativeness of a social game for social good. The WeTopia membership population (i.e. number of page likes) as of April 22, 2012 is 128,913.

The proposed research is part of a larger project on the WeTopia community. Together, these projects will use a mixed methods research design comprised of both a survey of WeTopia community members as well as a content analysis of data collected through an application developed using Facebook’s application programming interface (API). The survey will be conducted using the Qualtrics online survey design tool. The content analysis will collect general information from the participants profile data (e.g. game play frequency, game play duration, sex, age, education, relationship status, work status, state of health, frequency of Facebook use, religion, etc…) to build upon the survey responses and provide a depth of actual versus reported data. A link posted on the WeTopia Facebook page will solicit responses from the WeTopia community. Logic will be built into the survey in order to accommodate a variety of player and non-player types and to reduce the time needed to complete the survey. A free virtual good useable in the WeTopia game will also be offered to all participants and respondents.

Each research question and hypothesis will be investigated using the following survey questions and corroborated with the content analysis data. Please note that some wording has been adapted from Blumler (1979).

General Questions

  1. On a scale of 1-7 (very unsatisfied – very satisfied), how much does the WeTopia game satisfy your need for information about social good causes?
  2. On a scale of 1-7 (very boring – very entertaining), how much does the WeTopia game entertain you?
  3. On a scale of 1-7 (very alone – very supported), how much does the WeTopia game satisfy your need for social support and community?
  4. On a scale of 1-7 (very similar – very different), how similar or different do you feel to the average WeTopia player?
  5. Using the sliding scale, indicate how frequently you make point-of-purchase charitable donations while checking out at a store or restaurant.
  6. Using the sliding scale, indicate how satisfied you are with the participation from other WeTopia community members in the game.
  7. Using the sliding scale, indicate how many new social ties and friends have you gained from the WeTopia page.
  8. Using the sliding scale, indicate how likely you are to recruit others to join the WeTopia game? Have you already recruited others to play WeTopia?
  9. Using the sliding scale, indicate how often you “share” or post content to your wall for others to see regarding WeTopia or its affiliated causes?
  10. Do you believe that playing WeTopia is the same as volunteering? (Yes/No) Open-ended question, please explain.
  11. Do you believe that playing WeTopia is the same as donating money or goods to a charitable organization? (Yes/No) Open-ended question, please explain.
  12. Have you purchased virtual goods in order to support a cause for social good in WeTopia? (Yes/No)
  13. Would you donate to a WeTopia cause for social good if there were no in-game items given as a reward? (Yes/No/Maybe) Open-ended question, please explain.
  14. Do you play social games other than WeTopia on Facebook? (Yes/No) Do you play WeTopia more or less often than those other games? (More/Less)
  15. Are you more likely to purchase a virtual good from WeTopia than you are from another social game? (Yes/No/Maybe)

Motivation Specific Questions
(scale of 1-7 from strongly disagree to strongly agree and n/a)

Motivation 1- Information seeking

  1. I play the WeTopia game because it provides me with information I am looking for.
  2. I rely on the WeTopia game to send me information about social good campaigns and causes.
  3. I share posts and news through the WeTopia game with others in my social network.
  4. I can use the information from the WeTopia game to show me what society is like nowadays.
  5. Playing WeTopia makes me want to learn more about things.
  6. Playing WeTopia helps me to understand what is going on in the country and the world.

Motivation 2 – Entertainment

  1. I play WeTopia because it entertains me.
  2. I give more of my time and energy to non-profit organizations because of my involvement with the WeTopia game.
  3. Playing the WeTopia game gives me enjoyment.
  4. Playing the WeTopia game helps me to get away from everyday worries.
  5. Playing the WeTopia game helps me to relax.
  6. Playing the WeTopia game is a good way of passing the time when I don’t feel like doing anything else.

Motivation 3 – Social Interaction

  1. I play the WeTopia game because it increases my social ties and community.
  2. I feel supported by other WeTopia players.
  3. I play the WeTopia game because I identify with (or relate to) other WeTopia players.
  4. Playing the WeTopia game gives me support for my ideas.
  5. People who play WeTopia are like me.
  6. WeTopia community members are members of my group.

Motivation 4 – Altruism

  1. As a WeTopia player, I feel part of a larger effort to influence positive social change.
  2. I give more money to non-profit organizations because of my involvement with the WeTopia game.
  3. I volunteer more time to causes for social good due to my involvement with the WeTopia game.
  4. I am more active in my local community due to my involvement with the WeTopia game.
  5. Playing WeTopia allows me to volunteer my time to a worthy cause.
  6. Playing WeTopia reinforces my belief in helping the needy.


  • Baresch, B., Knight, L., Harp, D., & Yaschur, C. (2011). Friends who choose your news: An analysis of content links on facebook. ISOJ: The Official Research Journal of International Symposium on Online Journalism, Austin, TX, 1(2).
  • Blumler, J. G. (1979). The role of theory in uses and gratifications studies. Communication Research, 6(1), 9-36. doi:10.1177/009365027900600102
  • Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Branston, K., & Bush, L. (2010). The nature of online social good networks and their impact on non-profit organisations and users. PRism, 7(2).
  • De La Merced, M. (24 April 2012). Facebook’s profit falls 12% ahead of expected offering. New York Times.
  • Eller, A. (2008). Is there a link between offline behavior and online donations? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(5), 611. doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.0218
  • Hampton, K., Goulet, L., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K. (2011). Social networking sites and our lives. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
  • Hart, T. (2001). The ePhilanthropy revolution.32(3), 22. Retrieved from
  • Heinz, E. (30 November 2011). Facebook game ‘WeTopia’ allows players to donate to charity by building virtual village. The Huffington Post.
  • Hernandez, B. (11April 2012). WeTopia brings social good to Facebook gaming. Mashable. Retrieved from
  • Hou, J. (2011). Uses and gratifications of social games: Blending social networking and game play. First Monday, 16(7).
  • Information Solutions Group. (2010). PopCap social gaming research. Information Solutions Group.
  • Joinson, A. N. (2008). Looking at, looking up or keeping up with people?: Motives and use of facebook. ACM). Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’08). doi:10.1145/1357054.1357213
  • JustinBeiber. (20 December 2011). Proud to now be a part of #WeTopia let’s play this game and do some good 4 kids around the world #MAKEACHANGE [twitter post]. Message posted to
  • Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., & Evans, C. (2006). The civic potential of video games. (digital ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Katz, E. (1959). Mass communications research and the study of popular culture: An editorial note on a possible future for this journal. Studies in Public Communication, 2, 1.
  • Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Utilization of mass communication by the individual. In J. G. Blumler, & E. Katz (Eds.), The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Beverly Hills CA: Sage.
  • McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken : Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press.
  • Morozov, E. (2009, 5 September 2009). From slacktivism to activism. Foreign Policy.
  • Plenda, M. (2011, 8 April 2011). POX: Play the game, save the people. Union Leader.
  • Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Mitchell, A., Rosenstiel, T., & Olmstead, K. (2010). Understanding the participatory news consumer. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
  • Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone : The collapse and revival of American community.New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Ram, J. (2002). Save the world with a click: Motivations for using click-to-donate websites. (Unpublished Master of Arts). Georgetown University,
  • World Bank. (2010). Data retrieved May 1, 2012 from world DataBank database.

WeTopia is a browser game on a popular social networking site that allows players to use their ties with friends to build a virtual city and accumulate “Joy” points which can be spent on donations to charity in order to “make a real world difference.”

These real world differences include donations of food and clothing to various needful areas of the world like Haiti and soon in Africa. WeTopia is a social game developed by Sojo Studios which a  privately-held company that generates revenue from advertisers or from the sale of virtual goods. According to the About section of the developer’s Facebook page, the WeTopia game was launched in May 2010 and released for public beta in November 2011.

The Frame of the Game

TwinKomplex is marketed as a free-to-play, immersive, multiplayer, browser-based “living novel” which can be experienced across multiple devices. This immersive alternate reality game (ARG) weaves a story whose images and communication bleed into the actual reality of the player and may cause moments of paranoid play – especially if living in or around Berlin, Germany.

Although considered a living novel, for the purposes of this blog post we will examine TwinKomplex as a game including a brief review of the rules, gameplay and narrative. Further support for examining TwinKomplex as a game (aside from not knowing what constitutes such an existential concept like a living novel) can be found on the developer’s site which states:

“TwinKomplex is a game that bounces between fiction and reality like a ping-pong ball. A living novel, unfolded in real time…” which “invents meaning and causes paranoia, a game that plays with reality, a dive into the deep world of emotions, an adventure for modern times….”

The magic circle of TwinKomplex is most certainly blurry (but there) as the experience detailed below will show. This magic circle must have different nuances if played among a group of friends located in Germany but is still effective when played thousands of miles away from the locations filmed in the game’s videos. TwinKomplex can also be thought of as having a portable magic circle. In this portable magic circle, the player’s individual and situated experience is considered so long as one is prone to suspending disbelief and has access to the internet.

The touted portability of the game was an interesting marketing pull as tablet devices and smart phones continue to climb the technology ladder and this portability is also useful as a reality bending immersion tool. In order to achieve portability, the designers had to ensure that TwinKomplex could be experienced on multiple platforms and in multiple browsers. This is likely the reason why the game is primarily (and impressively) made with HTML5, Javascript and Flash (used only for YouTube videos). A few browser tricks are incorporated in the login/signup webpage as the potential player’s mouse glides across the screen to unveil a picture of a young woman. As intriguing as the picture may appear <spoiler alert> it is just the start of a psychological test that the participant must take before entering the world of the “living novel.”</spoiler alert>

The Psychological Test
(paging Dr. Freud)

The psychological test is eerie and unnerving. My first run through of the psychological test involved more pausing than the developers would have preferred; this forced a re-take of the test. I had paused intentionally in order to read and re-read the questions. As you can see from the image, the correlation between the two choices is nonsensical but, supposedly, meaningful. As Zainzinger (2012) from The Next Web states, “I was assured the test is meant to be serious.” Make sure you have your speakers up because throughout the test there are odd sounds and a perpetually ticking clock which adds an air of suspense and encourages the player to speed through the test to avoid the inevitable alarm. At the end, the player is told that the results will be available once the analysis is complete. This is just the start of the paranoia and the “WTH was that?!” feeling which players might find themselves asking throughout the game.

Who is the man behind the curtain?


It is appropriate that a company which goes by the name Ludic Philosophy developed a game that is built on bending the reality of play. As Huizinga (2006) states, “if we find that play is based on the manipulation of certain images, on a certain ‘imagination’ of reality…then our main concern will be to grasp the value and significance of these images and their ‘imagination’.” This may just be what the developers and the creator, Dr. Martin Burckhardt, are counting on. That is, manipulating the images in the game world to mimic the images in the player’s shared reality. This type of alternate reality play can effectively induce uncomfortable feelings and possible paranoia in players.   It is play which forces the player to grasp the value of what they are seeing and question the reality of what they know to be true. According to Salen and Zimmerman (2003), “these blurred boundaries surrounding the ARG magic circle can work as “an effective way to mount a powerful cultural critique.” In this postmodern, post world-war era one has to wonder how and for what philosophical purpose TwinKomplex was made. If there is a comment on society to be found in the game it might best be found in the choice of filler videos and websites which the player is directed to view. These are found as “clues” in the game map. We’ll get to more about the game map and those videos later.

The imagination which the game uses to progress the main narrative of the story is realistically shot through professionally edited video with legitimate actors and actresses using a range of webcam, hand-held and studio shots. No avatars were hurt during the production of the story as there are no avatars in the game. It would seem that in a game of blended reality, an avatar would only get in the way of the player finding meaning in the alternate reality. The player profile pictures would be considered the only “avatars” in-game. These profile picture are part of a larger social network for players to use in interacting beyond (and within?) the month-long game periods.

Playing the game…

The experience that hours of gameplay has offered will not be able to answer all questions that are bound to be asked of this esoteric mystery thriller. For one thing, as of the writing of this blog, the game is not yet over. Also, the gameplay which I was able to experience did not involve the three other players. The other players dropped out of the game after the first hour but one could imagine how much faster the game would unfold if they were actively playing. However, the developers thought of ways around this possibility by forcing progress in the game through free in-game email hints and through the purchase of in-game goods. Email hints can come from your first in-game contact or other incognito sources and always arrive with an announcement while the player is in-game as opposed to email or another circle bending communication form. Much like the virtual goods which the major social gaming developers (e.g. Zynga) use to justify their existence, the TwinKomplex store allows the player to purchase additional energy points and other objects in order to advance faster in the game. These virtual goods come with interesting quotes and/or creative item descriptions. This idea of “play money” is intriguing and was further discussed by Dr. Martin Burckhardt, the game’s creator, in a March 2011 blog and later at a Games Culture Circle event in April 2011. In both cases, the discussion worked to address the blurred reality which paying with grounded reality euros and dollars means when purchasing virtual goods.

What happens after the psychological test

During the first few hours of the game the player becomes acquainted with the interface, rules and objectives. After completing the psychological test, the player is presented with a series of videos which serve to introduce the player to the secret organization (DIA or Decentral Intelligence Agency) and the world in which they will “play.” The first mission is provided and the player is introduced the various items which can be used to find missing persons, shadowy conspirators and other apparent criminals across the globe. Prior to starting the game, the player is asked to choose the game language (i.e. German or American English). Although the language is chosen, most videos are voiced in German and subtitled in American English which may lower immersion in some cases or serve to heighten the feeling of not knowing what is going on and possibly increase immersion into a paranoid reality. The rules are relatively simple (i.e. use your available energy efficiently, solve the mystery with the resources given and find clues) but the objectives are obfuscating and cryptic. Each month the story-line changes so any actual detail of the narrative may not be useful. In general the player is given objectives which require them to investigate clue X or location X in order to find some missing person(s) or important figure. Along the way, the player learns more about the game world through the investigation of the Google map to find clues and scientific examination of those clues. This scientific examination is conducted in a pseudo-lab where the player can order tests which use up energy and take time (from 1 minute up to 30 minutes). There is an in-game database which the player can use by calling up a command prompt and typing search or some other known operand. This database is useful in finding the last location or any known information about a subject under investigation.

The images, communication and apparent reaction of the game to your actions can raise the hair on your arm or make you cock your head in wonder.

^^Warning: Example of scary clown video found as in-game vanity “clue”

At one point I was asked to find someone on Skype and I only had to open Skype before an announcement appeared on my screen stating that I had a new clue. To test the waters, I then messaged the Skype username and to my surprise I was contacted a few days later by e-mail with a response. It should be noted that this was likely a bot responding to my Skype message but it was a believable bot to be sure and kept up lively communication through at least three email conversations.     

Hardcore or casual?

If, as Ventrice 2010 argues, the distinction between hardcore and casual is accessibility then TwinKomplex is a surely a hardcore social game. TwinKomplex has some of the hallmarks of a social game. In-game objectives may be accomplished with the help of your friends (if they didn’t quit after the first day). The game is asynchronous allowing the player to leave the game and still have the reality continue without them with a little help from their fellow agents. The players are rewarded for returning each time with additional energy and updates. <sarcasm>And penultimate of all,</sarcasm> the game allows players to send updates to Facebook. The controls are difficult and vague. They go beyond the game and require mental facilitates to sort through the clues in order to understand when to use which controls in order to solve the mystery.Keeping in mind that it is not only everything that is happening in-game but also things which are happening out of the game (such as the email mentioned above). The options are overwhelming with multiple HUDs allowing for a variety of analysis, a large game map with a myriad of searchable areas and searchable sub areas through Google streetview as well. There is also the stylistically simple, icon driven menu system which allows the player to interact with clues and actively search for the next clue. Prerequisite knowledge of how to read and how to use the internet is required and knowledge of German or Germany is helpful. Abstract memorization occurs as the player attempts to map out and remember the clues which have been provided or examined in order to piece together the larger puzzle. Unclear goals and unclear solutions are also common in TwinKomplex as the player is never sure which lab tests to run, which agents to trust or where the next clue may take them. Mission after mission, the story comes into focus and then fades back as “love turns into treason and trusted allies become suspects.”

Is it a living novel?

It may be philosophically sexy to consider the game a living novel but TwinKomplex is surely a game if nothing else. The cinematic camera angles and realistic acting add  layers to the narrative but they are all part of the larger artistic statement. Without the knowledge of a film critic one could argue that the game might be considered a compilation of short films interrupted by gaps in the story-line which the player must find and fill-in. In this sense it may also be considered a living novel in which the player takes action and finds meaning on their (in its) own terms. What an interesting rhetorical creation. It’s a living novel, game, story, narrative…whatever you want…but you must play it to understand it your own terms. Why add scary dancing clowns? Who knows, but one may have found a critique of society in it.  I don’t mean to be mystical or cerebral here but that may be the goal in making this game and part of Dr. Burckhardt’s ludic philosophy. Let me know if you try it out…meet you on the other side. 

-DIA Agent HallowsHunter

Post-script: I was originally interested in this game because I thought it was going to be similar but fancier version of a non-flash browser-based riddle game like “NotPron” but it obviously was not so my reaction to the eeriness of the game may be a result of my not knowing what I was getting into. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the game and will continue to play…I’ll make a brief update to this blog once the game is over.


Short Game Assignment 1: Analyze a board game that is over 1 hour in length and allows for 2+ players. Use the class readings for support and guidance.


BeezerWizzer Game Session

The game used for this analysis is BeezerWizzer (Mattel – $28.99). The game night included two couples and a last minute fifth player all of which had never played the game prior to that night. The social ties between players added an interesting layer to the play. During the game both of the couples used their personal affiliation to influence their partner’s decision on whether or not to make a strategic move against them (ie – “You shouldn’t switch my categories because you are going home with me…). The group sat in as much of a circle as we could create with a rectangular coffee table but it is interesting to note the literal circle formed for our own “magic circle” (Huizinga, 2006) of play.

Round One – Cooperate!
In considering the play and game aspects of the evening, the first time through Beezerwizzer was much more play than game. Much of the first round was spent examining and re-examining the game rules. Tuckman’s (1965) “forming, storming, norming and peforming” occurred as the group dynamics began to develop around the discussion of the game rules. Where rules were unavailable or unclear (eg – Can you zwap after someone puts down a beezerwizzer? Can you zwap your own tiles?) the group brainstormed and came to a consensus which essentially created house rules.

Round 2 – Fight!
Once the rules were established and understood, more strategic and less cooperative play developed. At this point everyone had taken ownership of their play, were comfortable with the rules and were now motivated to win.  There was a sharp change in the social atmosphere of the game the second time around as well. The group dialogue was lively when the group was discovering the rules but quickly dissipated once the rules were set and the “serious” game began. This is what Tuckman would have called the “performing stage” and it was during this time when “higher-risk trust activities and values exercises” (Thompson 2010) were explored. During this second round, when trust was at it highest, one player decided to try a deceptive and tactical move by pretending not to know the answer to the question. In response, another player tried to “steal” the question by providing another possible answer. As a result, the first player (who knew the answer from the start) received full points for the question and the challenging player was forced to move back 1 space due to an incorrect answer. Interestingly, the player who challenged felt slighted after the game which may or may not be attributed to the loss in trust which resulted from the tactical move the first player made. Although there was a “magic circle” of play for the game that night it would appear that this “magic circle” may have a longer half-life than just the space and time in which the game was played.

BeezerWizzer Game Board

BeezerWizzer Game Board with category and action tiles

Gameplay explained: Beezerwizzer is a trivia game wrapped in a strategy game surrounded by a game of chance. The team (or individual) that makes it around the board first is the winner. Each team chooses four six category tiles from a bag at the beginning of the game which correspond to categories of trivia questions they may be asked. Each category tile is placed on a board below the point value that the team anticipates they could earn if they got the question correct. Ostensibly, the more knowledgeable you are in category, the more points you would give that category. Each team also has two “BeezerWizzer” tiles and one “Zwap” tile. The BeezerWizzer tiles are used to “steal” a question from another team by answering the question correctly when/if the other team cannot. If an attempt to “steal” a question is made and the thief gets the question incorrect as well then the would-be thief’s piece is moved back one space. The Zwap tiles are used to swap any two available tiles; including two of your own or those of two other players. The BeezerWizzer and Zwap tiles add an element of strategy to a genre of games (ie – trivia) which usually do not entertain strategic gameplay. Using these “Beezerwizzer” and “Zwap” tiles makes it possible for the other team to steal your top category especially if they consider it a strategic advantage to do so. The game is designed to go through at least two rounds in order to traverse the entire board and these Beezerwizzer and Zwap tiles are recharged every round. This means that there are at least four chances to “steal” a category and two chances to swap categories each time you play the game. The points collected allow you to move your piece around the board and the first team (individual) to the last square wins. 

On a side note:
The choice of game was originally limited to the assignment criteria and a price point at or under $10. However, this price point was adjusted to allow for an actual choice of games. It was disheartening to find only a handful of games for under $10 at Target. It was no great surprise to find a few more than that at Walmart. In both stores, “cheap games” for under $10 were either table games (ie – checkers, chess, mancala), card games (ie – Uno, traditional deck, Go Fish) or low budget games (ie – Don’t Break the Ice, Memory, Yahtzee). Award-winning games were the highest priced with some coming in at over $45. As developers continue to create cheaper mobile versions of these games for smart phones, tablets and e-readers one begins to wonder about the future of the physical board game market. If one can purchase a mobile, electronic version of Catan for $3.99, why would you spend $41.99 for a bulky off-line version?


  • Huizinga, J. (2006). Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play Anthology (pp. 96-120). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Thompson, P. (2010). Play and Positive Group Dynamics. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 19(3), 53-58. Last retrieved on February 1, 2012 from
  • Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399.