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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: FarmVille

I can only imagine that the occupation of farming is one that can be both rewarding and exhausting at the same time.

While I've never really known anybody who has owned a farm, or even worked on a farm, I can appreciate the effort that they must put in on any given day. Spending long hours tending to their fruit trees and vegetable gardens, hoping that this year's crops are more bountiful than the year before. Working long hours feeding chickens, cows, and horses to make sure that they keep working. Spreading fertilizer and black earth all over the fields in the hot sun to keep your plants growing and nourished.

Still, a lot of people out there in this world, they don't seem to have the same appreciation for farming and agriculture that I do. Many of them would have the opinion that farming is one of the dullest occupations that one can ever take part in. Of course, what some of these people don't seem to realize is that if we didn't have farming, our produce sections in grocery stores would look a little empty, but that is a different argument altogether.

A few people I have talked to have said that they would probably not last one whole day doing farming and agricultural tasks. They see it as way too much work and not enough play. A few of them have even said that farming seems boring to them. A couple of them would rather play video games or computer games.

But making a video game about farming? That's crazy talk, right? Right?

Enter social networking site Facebook and computer gaming company Zynga.

I'm sure that most of you reading this blog has at least one Facebook account. Don't be afraid to admit it. I use a Facebook page myself, and actually have a fan page for the Pop Culture Addict's Guide To Life (and while we're thinking of it, please like the page, because I post links to up to date entries there, and because I can promote my blog ON my blog. Thanks).

Okay, now that the shameless self-promotion period is over, I can continue.

Certainly, Facebook is one of the largest social networks online today despite all of the changes that people are having a huge difficulty keeping up with (or liking), and one of the reasons why it has grown so much is because of the millions of game applications that pop up each day. It's true what they say about being anything that you want to be on Facebook. You can have the opportunity to play simulated games that let you be whoever you want to be. If you want to be a crime scene investigator, there's a Facebook game based on the popular CSI show that will allow you to do this. If you always wanted to own a restaurant but are unable to get the loan to start one up, you can always go to Cafe World. And, well...if you always wanted to kill someone off without going to prison, you're in luck, because Mafia Wars will let you kill off an entire population of a whole town (albeit virtually).

And yes, there is a Facebook game that will let you become a farmer.

The game FarmVille was launched onto Facebook through Zynga on June 19, 2009. Since June 2009, the game has exploded onto the social media circuit with a reported 32 MILLION Facebook users playing this game at any given day. As of last September, FarmVille had reportedly 60 MILLION monthly active users...twice the amount of FrontierVille (also programmed by Zynga). It is currently the third most played Facebook game ever, behind CityVille and Sims Social.

Here's a sobering fact for everyone here. If you took every single Farmville player in the whole world and lined them up shoulder to shoulder, the line would stretch all the way from San Francisco, California to New York, New York. That's a distance of over 10,000 miles (16,100 km for those of you who still use metric).

That's a lot of virtual crops!

It honestly baffles me to see just how addicted some people are to FarmVille. I myself have never played it because my brainstorming for writing projects and my blogging ventures don't leave me with a whole lot of free time to play it. But at my real world job, I can probably gather a group of fifty together and find at least one person who has played FarmVille. Some people are almost obsessed with the game, spending hours on end harvesting virtual crops and tending to pixelated animals. I'm not talking about people spending just an hour or two on the game per day. I'm talking ENTIRE DAYS.

So, why is FarmVille so addictive?

I think a part of it has to do with competition. Certainly with millions and millions of people playing the game, you almost have to work extra hard to make your farm stand out in a crowd.

People can achieve that by buying items and animals. Certainly, there's the basic needs, such as plants, horses, cows, ducks, and chickens. You can also build structures such as houses and barns. You could even have specialty items such as ferris wheels, hot-air balloons, and merry-go-rounds.

However, to get the best items, as well as bragging rights, you're gonna have to spend the currency of FarmVille to buy these items. This currency is known as 'farm coins', and when a new player signs up for FarmVille, they get a fixed amount. They can also earn more coins by performing various tasks in the game, and they can even buy FarmVille gift cards at some retail stores so that they can afford to buy the best stuff. I suppose it also helps to have a lot of Facebook friends who also play FarmVille because that way you have the best chance of getting the rarest of gifts for their own farms.

Or, so I'm told.

The game has even gotten endorsements from businesses and major celebrities over the years. As of June 2011, McDonald's has become a big sponsor of the game, offering FarmVille gifts that are McDonald's themed, like McCafe items and hot-air balloons. Even Lady Gaga used FarmVille as a promotional tool to help sell her 'Born This Way' album by offering special Lady Gaga themed gifts for FarmVille users to purchase and give to friends. Proof that to some people, FarmVille can be more than just a game.

Of course, the game has been subject to controversy in regards to how the game is played. Because the game largely relies on a player to spend real world dollars to afford the most expensive luxuries for their own farms, and because of the largely competitive nature that can erupt between players, FarmVille has been linked to some rather unusual behaviour.

In April 2010, a 12-year-old boy from the United Kingdom made headlines after spending more that $1,370 US) on virtual items in FarmVille. Only about $440 of this was his own money. The rest he used with his mother's credit card without her knowledge. Whoops!

A few months later, in August 2011, a court had heard that a man by the name of Adam Hamnett of Greater Manchester, UK was so addicted to the FarmVille game that he even committed murder as a result! He was so desperate to purchase virtual animals for the game that he resorted to robbing a blind man for money to pay for these animals. When the victim threatened to report the crime to the police if he wasn't paid back, he then broke into the home of his mother's former beau and stabbed him for the cash!

Don't believe me? Here's the story in all its gory details.

Now, I ask this not messed up or what?

I mean, certainly, video game addiction is one that a lot of people have. I myself can get pretty deep into a video game if I allow myself to be. But I would never think to steal from someone or kill someone just so I could buy a cow for a virtual farm. That's absolutely insane to me.

Still, though, those are just two of the most extreme cases. I'd like to believe that most FarmVille players aren't that crazy or addicted. I'd LIKE to believe that.

Certainly in moderation, FarmVille can be an enjoyable distraction from the day-to-day struggles of work and the home, and certainly there can be a few positives in the game. Still, has to wonder if those playing the game would even last five minutes on a real farm, taking care of real animals, and harvesting real crops.

I'll wager a bet that most of them won't.

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