How Farmville Reflects Real World Attitudes

I’ve been reflecting, lately, on the Farmville phenomenon.  Farmville, as you may know, is a Facebook application (Facebook members can find it here).  Users, referred to as “farmers” in the app, plow and plant, and harvest and sell crops of various types.  Pretty simple really.  No different from so many games of similar ilk.  However, at the time of this writing, Farmville has 69,502,265 monthly active users and 7,327,453 fans.  Those are big numbers, even for Facebook, which has several hundred million members.

What’s going on here?  Why the popularity?  Some of Farmville’s success surely must be attributable to network effects – users create buzz and beget more users and so on.  But I think much of this app’s success is explained by people wanting to create something.  More specifically, to grow something.  Yes, there really is magic in nurturing a crop from seed to delicious ripeness.  At least I think so.  There are some on Facebook who think otherwise and a look at their points of view is instructive and a little chilling.  Let’s take a look first at a Facebook Page called “Not Playing Farmville”, a gathering place for angry, disgusted and disillusioned Farmville haters boasting 1,800,861 Facebook fans.  Many of the comments posted there are unprintable.  Here’s one that’s interesting:

“What a waste.  I am a real farmer…..you oughta try it for real- and see how much you like getting screwed.”

A little raw, eh?  (Blogoshere protocol typically dictates that posters be identified.  Given the nature of what’s quoted, however, you’ll forgive me if I do not oblige.)  Here’s a farmer who looks at Farmville as a farce, a charade that is innocent of all the real world effort and emotional and financial pain that being an agricultural producer so frequently carries today.  Contrast it, if you will, with this next perspective, which couldn’t be more different:

“Farmville is a waste of time.  People need to get a life not a farm.”

Ouch!  Farming is the marginalized, pitiable pursuit of losers.  I’m not Facebook friends with the poster and do not know her background.  (Clearly not a farmer!)  Nevertheless, this reminds me of a famous on-camera interview in the 60’s.  The interviewee, when asked where food comes from, replies, “Food is!”  I can tell you from hard experience that food definitely doesn’t just “happen”, and that family farming and ranching are complicated and difficult avocations that are more than a little unpredictable.  And, I offer, honorable and rewarding and real.

Now this, from Automation Labs, for use in Farmville:

“With Farming Extreme Manager you can:

– Automatically Harvest, Plow and Plant your farm!

– Automatically Collect from your Animals!

– Automatically Harvest your Trees…

– Automatically repeat everything indefinitely!”

Yikes!  Weird and chilling.  Industrialized, mechanized agriculture meets social networking.  Is the pursuit of efficiency so ingrained in us that we must automate even the games we play?  If so, what, I would ask, is the point of playing the game?

If Farming Extreme Manager didn’t catch your attention, perhaps this excerpt from the mission statement of The Anti-Farmville Group on Facebook will:

“This is for everyone who does not agree with Farmville. In joining this group, it is your responsibility to get on someones facebook, who has farmville and sell all their animals, crops, and everything they own…”

In addition to violating Facebook’s terms of use, this smallish group apparently embraces a philosophy of virtual cyber-agri-terrorism.  I was struck by the words “everyone who does not agree with Farmville.” Agree with Farmville?  Is this a contest of ideology?  Farmville is a game.  A game played by millions, perhaps, but still a game.  Why is this particular game threatening?  What is it about Farmville that elicits such a negative and mean-spirited response?  Why should these people care at all?  Well, care they do; here’s a partial quote from a Wall entry:

“I have my target in sight I just need to figure out his password and watch his farmville empire crumble round his ears as I sell his beloved lost sheep cows ducks and whatever else he has on that awful game…”

I think two things:  First, we have lost a great deal as a culture and as a nation from the continuing extirpation of family farms and ranches.  Second, we either want to participate in and experience the magic of growing things, in creating, even if only virtually, or we don’t want to think about it at all.  Farmville gives us the chance to participate.  Yes, yes, I know, it’s not “real”.  Even so, Farmville to many is curiously and powerfully satisfying.  To others, the application throws our disconnectedness to the land in our faces, causing us great discomfort, even anger.  Isn’t it better not to know how food comes to our table?  Aren’t there better things to do with our time?  Wasn’t soylent green, after all, nutritious and reliably available?

Share

Advertisements