Columns

2010.03.10 Farming made easy

on . Posted in By The Way

By HEATHER WALKER

Good news! My friend just found some Treasured Golden Mystery Eggs! Apparently she made some chickens very happy. Isn’t that incredible? Possibly. But not unusual.

The golden eggs exist only in FarmVille, which (like FishVille, Zoo World, Café World, Mafia Wars and others) is a Facebook application (AKA game).

To bring you up to speed, Facebook is an online social networking system that allows a person to post photos and comments about himself, while finding and talking to others who are doing the same. For many of us, Facebook without “apps” is bad enough. Thinking we will log in for a minute, we get sucked into reading the most recent posts and comments, and before we know it, we’ve wasted an hour. But FarmVille? Yikes, I don’t even want to get started.

I don’t know much about the game, but I do know this—it is highly addictive. More addictive than American Idol and Lay’s potato chips. More addictive than Texas Hold ‘Em and, possibly, nicotine. These people are serious. They spend hours of time tending their “farms”— so much time that it begins to interfere with, well, their actual lives.

A friend of mine said she knew it had become a social blight when she heard a caller on a radio program complaining that three women had missed their Bible study group because they couldn’t leave their farms (AKA computers). And I’ve heard of people asking hosts at parties, “Can I use your computer for just a few minutes? I need to harvest my wheat.” To borrow from columnist Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.

My understanding of FarmVille is limited. I gather it is something like farming except there is no actual work to be done. There is “harvesting” of crops, “feeding” of animals, “buying” of land and “building” of barns. All of this is done while sitting comfortably inside, staring at a computer screen.

Nonetheless, I do not think the technicality of “realness” takes away from the intensity of the experience. “I only need one more friend for the chicken coop expansion....just one...come on Farmville neighbors help me out....PLEASE.” This post from a dear friend who in all other ways is normal, intelligent, well-adjusted and can, in most cases, distinguish an actual dire circumstance from a pretend one. But she’s not alone in this fantasy—there are 80 million others doing the same thing (I’m not making this up, either.)

Among those who refuse to engage in this so-called “nonsense,” are people who take great pleasure in openly criticizing those who do. There are “groups” (again, this is all pretend as none of these Facebook groups will ever convene in real life) for people who are uniting against FarmVille. Reading some of the posts, there are members who have lost parents and siblings to the game, members who are recovering addicts themselves, and members who believe the game has ties to Lucifer. It’s difficult to say how much of this is meant to be read tongue-in-cheek, but I believe the underlying sentiment is sincere.

Personally, I don’t hate it. That’s not it. Honestly, the reason I have never once followed a link or looked at anyone’s farm or accepted a request for a golden egg, is not repulsion. It is fear. I am deeply, bone-chillingly afraid. Seriously. People have lost their minds to these games. Even those who are still able to go to work every day and carry on relatively normal social lives are never quite the same. They willingly accumulate hundreds of posts on their Facebook page declaring things like “So-and-so has a baby Donkey separated from his family. Oh My!” and “So-and-so found some Rare Black Mystery Eggs and wants to say thank you!” and “So-and-so just bred a baby Sloth!” (I swear. I am not making this up.)

Now you tell me, who allows his or her personal “home page” to be characterized by such comments as “Congratulations! You just bred a baby sloth!” That’s what I’m saying. There must be something irresistible about these games. Something that resembles a hybrid of reality TV, junk food, caffeine, and mind-altering substances. Something that makes people forget about their troubles. Something that makes them feel powerful and successful—like anything is possible. Something that offers rewards like, well, golden eggs (simply for feeding someone’s chickens).

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