Instagram is a Game

Over the holidays, I downloaded the Game of Thrones Conquest app. I was bored, had watched everything on Netflix (no lie), and needed something else to do with my down time. I had a friend recommend the game, promising it to be “well-made” and “addictive.” Spoiler alert: It was.

You log onto the game, create your character, name your house, design a banner – and then, you’re thrust out into Westeros, where you will build a castle, fight White Walkers, and forge alliances in order to capture the Iron Throne. I’m a huge Thrones nerd if you didn’t know, and it was actually SO accurate with the books/show.

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Within a day, I was hooked. I was building farms and sawmills to supply my troops, heating my dragon egg every few hours on a pyre, upgrading my supply house… HOOKED. There are all of these actions that take 2-3 hours to accomplish, and the second it is done, you need to start again or you could face attack/starvation/some other consequence. It kept you coming back to the app over and over again.

There are also milestone rewards you can collect – leveling up gets you a big one, for example – that encourage you to keep growing and investing time into your castle.

When my mom was in town, I had to spend $5 (real money ppl) to feed my baby dragon because I ran out of food. I know that it sounds ridiculous, but let’s not forget that I, along with 4 friends, spend upwards of $20 on the Kim Kardashian Hollywood game in college. Then, of course, the app asked me to buy $10 worth of GOLD COINS or $20 to UPGRADE THE KEEP. The flashy ads popped up every time I entered the app, and still do!

As I continued playing this game, I realized there was a chat feature. I have not spoken in this chat, as it reminds me of PlayStation when I would watch Nick and Zack have convos with strangers as they played (WEIRD) but I did read it for a bit. Some players were nice to one another, answering questions about how to do this or that. Some people were seeking alliance members, boasting about their success and asking others to join them “if they wanted to stand a chance.” Direct quote. This is getting a little intense, I thought. It’s just an app.

It was then that it hit me. Instagram is a game, too.

The app keeps you coming back again, again, and again; PUSH NOTIFICATIONS! Let’s check who liked my photo. My best friend DMd me a meme.

There are milestones you are DYING to hit – 10K followers for the Swipe Up feature, for example.

There are shortcuts, like buying followers, like pods, and giveaways, that you can buy into.

There are conversations happening everywhere between strangers – some are genuine, and some seem fake and forced.

Finally, a computer ultimately determines your success. Will the algorithm show your post to 10% of your audience or 50%? Will your story get picked up in the hashtag you used? None of the failures or successes are completely your fault.

As this revelation hit me, I realized that I simply can’t keep beating myself up about this app.

I love Instagram, don’t get me wrong. It’s allowed me to explore my creative side and build a career I never dreamed of achieving. I have met some of my best friends through it, and I’ve learned a lot about photography and other artistic traits because of the cool creative content that others have posted. HOWEVER, I get a sense of anxiety every time I hit “Post.” Will this photo tank? Will I hit the necessary 2% organic engagement? Do I delete it if it doesn’t perform well, or leave it up?

Instagram affects how I view my content. Even if I love a photo and feel happy with it, if it tanks, I’ll be crushed. I HATE IT. I hate the power that this app holds over me.

The majority of my campaigns now require a post to Instagram. I worry about sponsored posts underperforming, and then brands not wanting to work with me again even though I don’t doubt the quality of the content.

More importantly, I worry that when a photo underperforms, my audience no longer chooses to *like* my content because they don’t genuinely LIKE it anymore. Am I losing my followers’ interest because I can’t afford to buy new outfits from Nordstrom to post every day, or because I can’t travel to an exotic destination to get “the shot” that will go viral?

Though my concerns are valid, and have really made me not put all my eggs in one Instagram basket when it comes to my career, Instagram at its core is a computer code not much unlike my Game of Thrones game. When I get frustrated with my game app, I simply exit it out, instantly feeling better as I remember that it’s just a game and doesn’t matter. When I get frustrated with Instagram, I need to do the same: Exit the app, remember that it’s not all in my control, and it ultimately doesn’t matter. There are far more important things in life than your likes on an app.

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