At first glance, Selfy Town, the virtual community of G-Crest’s online game, TinierMe, looks like a delightful little world to spend time in. Cheerful and brightly colored avatars, or Selfys, wander the cute and brightly colored town dressed in their very best clothing, chatting under lovely green trees and strolling down pristine beaches. Occasionally, virtual pop stars show up to serenade Selfy Town’s visitors as they hand out free gifts like candy, and it’s not unusual to see droves of users spending a relaxing afternoon fishing in the village’s many lakes and streams. In the months that I’ve been visiting Selfy Town, however, I have come to realize that its shell of charm hides a greedy and vicious land of reckless consumerism and barely hidden violence.
It didn’t take long for the first hints that something was deeply wrong with Selfy Town to appear even to my untrained eye. The most immediate societal problem that seems to face the town is the ease of access to weapons. Without even trying to get any instruments of death, I have managed to amass maces, spears, bows, tridents, bomb detonators, laser guns, tridents, and twenty-two swords in my closet of accessories. I shudder to think what someone set on destruction could readily find.
Of course, there are some people who might make the argument that since all of these weapons are only for show, with Tinier Me offering nothing resembling battles for its users, there is no danger to be had. If that’s true, however, I would love for someone to explain to me what happened to the eyes of every Selfy donning an eye patch. True, mine wears one out of necessity, because in my head, she is a glamorous pop superstar who had some sort of terrible accident in regards to which I never bothered to think up any details, but this cannot be the norm. If even one Selfy was maimed by the weapons so common in their world, that’s one Selfy too many for my tastes.
A less immediately evident, but still troubling, aspect of Selfy Town comes in the glut of anonymous relationships the virtual city suffers through. The first time that I set digital foot in the town square, I received a friend request from someone claiming that it was nice to meet me. Delighted, I instantly clicked accept, wondering if it was my exquisite taste in fashion or lovely user name that had led them to include me in their prestigious friends’ list. Once I had visited Selfy Town just a few more times, however, I came to realize that there was certainly nothing special about my avatar, as everyone was attempting to add as many people to their friends’ lists as humanly possible. Just to make the realization of my lack of distinction even more painful, I soon discovered that even the “nice to meet you” message was automated.
With all of these anonymous “friendships” being formed, one might wonder what the benefits of these relationships are. Certainly it’s not the great literature found in user diaries that leads entire user groups to be built for the purpose of adding more and more users to their superficial friends’ lists. Though out of consideration for the others who frequent the shady paths of Selfy Town, I won’t reveal the contents of their journals, one of mine contained the profound and carefully constructed thought, “Today, I logged in and did the gacha (or item vending machine) for today and won pancakes! Isn't that delicious?” Sure, they did look delicious, but the chance of anyone else caring was low indeed, as evidenced by the lack of comments on my post.
Though my diary post was completely irrelevant to all Tinier Me users, looking at it does reveal both the reason for amassing large amounts of friends and the biggest problem facing Selfy Town: an unrestrained and widespread epidemic of materialism. As the site provides very little aside from a town to wander through and a few relatively simple minigames, improving the appearance of their online avatar becomes the primary concern of many a regular user of the site. In order to get clothing, hairstyles, and even faces for these avatars, however, virtual currency must be spent, and unless you’re the sort of user willing to shell out real money for fake items, this requires some amount of effort. Some items are easy to get or can be gotten through relatively legitimate channels, such as the events occasionally held within the dangerous walls of Selfy Town. However, the vast majority of them require a virtual currency known as the Chibi Coin for their purchase in shops or the aforementioned gacha, which often takes unsavory methods to procure.
It would be grossly inaccurate for me to say that Chibi Coins could only be gained through less than reputable means. A strange brain training minigame offers both Chibi Coins and items galore for users willing to take the time to play it, and I also can’t find fault with the fact that each user receives five coins for every day that they log into the website itself. The main way to get Chibi Coins, however, is to make sure that you have plentiful friends, adding new meaning to the term “friend whoring.” The goal of many users is to gain 100 friends in order to gain 100 coins each day that they appear in Selfy Town. Since the act of friending a user goes both ways, it is mutually beneficial, but the idea of making a quick and impersonal connection in order to gain currency, virtual or not, does have its obvious real world parallels.
Though having a long list of friends is the primary way of accruing Chibi Coins for many people on Tinier Me, it is not the most unsavory by a longshot. That, of course, would be the site’s cheerful endorsement of organized gambling. The card games in question, Old Maid and Sevens, seem innocent enough, and the fact that you gamble for medals that are to be exchanged for prizes lends the whole thing a sunny mall arcade sort of atmosphere. It is only in execution that the problems with the system become evident. The fact that some of the prizes you can exchange medals for are large amounts of chibi coins and nice exclusive items, some of which are available for extremely limited periods, leads players to become desperate for winning bets on the games in which they participate. This emotional stress would be bad in and of itself, but the worst part of the ordeal are the cheating alliances that players manage to form, in which players reveal their cards to one another in order to crush the unsuspecting rube with the bad luck to step into their vicious trap of a game of Old Maid.
When I first signed up for Tinier Me, I expected to be participating in nothing more than a glorified doll maker with hints of Animal Crossing. Upon discovering that its non-threatening exterior hid a maze of greed, violence, and anonymity that rivaled even those found in reality, however, I wasn’t necessarily shocked. Even though the wild misbehavior in Selfy Town isn’t as immediately evident as the vice on something such as the uncontrollable message boards of Gaia Online or the cereal ads that masqueraded as games in the early world of Neopets, it is perfectly natural that any society, whether it be real or virtual, would fail in its attempt to reach a Utopian state.