The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity.

A great essay and a look into why so many of the people on your Facebook friends list are playing a game they will never win that intrudes upon their real life and isn’t even fun.

(via Cultivated Play: Farmville | MediaCommons.)