My latest pet crush is on Woofie, whose place looks like it belongs in a glossy travel magazine. Even if it’s just for a few moments, I feel like I’m on vacation as I tour his rooms. His beautiful boardwalk inspired me to start a new series, the Pet Society Traveler, to highlight interesting players from different parts of the world.
Woofie is owned by Yann Sou, who is originally from Macau. In case you’re not familiar with Macau, it’s sort of like Las Vegas set in Asia. Located in the southern tip of China, it used to be a Portuguese colony, so the place is filled with crumbling, 16th-century churches along with glitzy new hotels and casinos.
Yann has lived in France since the age of four. Now I’ve always been a bit jealous of Asians who grow up in Europe. They seem to be true citizens of the world. In addition to speaking French, Yann is fluent in English and Cantonese. He also speaks a little bit of German. Most exciting, he’s one of the few straight men who play Pet Society. And he is single. With a respectable job. In Paris.
I’m highlighting Yann, because recently, I was at a conference where I tried to make the case that playing computer games can be as productive and stimulating, as say, painting. Some people were intrigued. Others scoffed. “Virtual pets?” one man asked. “Weird.”
“I’m not into computer games,” one woman who looked to be in her 30s told me. “I used to have a boyfriend in college who was a gamer. It was a real downer.” Now a mother of a six-year-old boy, she added, “I don’t want my son to start playing on the computer. It’s a slippery slope.”
Are computer games a waste of time? Certainly, in the beginning, when my pet was jumping rope hundreds of times a day, trying to earn enough coins for a bed, I felt like my brain was turning into glue. But then I discovered the real joys of online gaming—interacting with other players through the forums and ahem, blogs. Pet Society may be a simple game, but the players are not. We saw some amazing works of imagination in March, when Playfish’s Landmark Competition spurred people to build things like the Arc de Triomphe and the Forbidden City with nothing but bookshelves and pillows.
The cool thing about Pet Society is that it allows anyone to be an interior designer, landscape artist or fashion trendsetter. The game gets you thinking about visual spaces, colors, and shapes. And because of the social nature of the game, it gets people from as far as London to Singapore to talk to one another.
There are now 15 million people who are actively playing Pet Society. This is larger than World of Warcraft. All these people are meeting each other online, sharing stories, pictures, trading items. And this is just one game. I can’t even begin to think about other games like Yoville or Restaurant City which also have millions of players. In short, it is amazing how online games are building up the social aspect of the Web while giving people tools for creative expression.