Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Gameplay with(out) communication: How players use the messaging system in Zynga games


In 2012 the iPhone app Words with Friends (WwF) was one of the most popular games in the App Store. Tapping into that Zynga released a board game version with a television ad declaring, “everybody’s favorite social networking game just got more social.” The transition of this emerging media form of an app back into the old media form of a board game produces a strange moment for analysis that says something about game play and interaction. The ad, perhaps inadvertently, admits to the user that the interaction happening through the app is somehow a lesser sociability. The transition from digital media back to face-to-face is a transition back to getting “more social.” This research examines connections, interpersonal communication, and gameplay by looking at user attitudes about gameplay and conversation in WwF. Through a survey collecting quantitative and qualitative data this study asks WwF players about their attitudes toward the messaging system, how they use it, and how they respond to other players through it. It looks at if, and how, connections are made through a game that has replaced face-to-face interaction with texting. This is also an examination of how a player affects an opponent’s feelings through virtual conversations. Just as there are (spoken and unspoken) rules of communication in general, there are rules of communication in gameplay about how players interact with one another. This study examines how those rules translate into rules about communicating through the Words with Friends messaging system.

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