Every Tom, Dick and Harry

Posted on December 15, 2009 by

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By: Billie Hirsch

Amidst the over populated Boston metropolitan area, city dwellers from all walks of life are trying their hand at farming crops, harvesting strawberries and orange groves to rose bushes and cherry trees.

The crops can wilt without proper care—but are not available for purchase or for that matter, human consumption. They are mock produce, made entirely of pixilated images for use in a real-time Facebook game called Farmville.

Call it casual or addictive; the game is quickly growing to become an online phenomenon. One student reveals her feelings toward the simulation game—“I poked fun at my roommate for playing at first, but then I got sucked in,” says Stephanie Rodrigues, diehard farmer and sophomore at Emmanuel College. “Now I log onto Facebook purely to farm, three hours will go by and I’ll have no idea.”

The game exclusively allows members of Facebook to manage their own personal virtual farm, and starts a farmer off with six plots of land—four plots that are in the process of growing, and two “fully furnishes” plots containing crops that are already full-grown. The player cultivates the crops by planting seeds that, once grown, can be harvested for coins called “Farmville cash”. The cash can be used to further develop the farm with items such as animals, trees, or for the holidays, Poinsettia.

Once the crops have fully grown, they begin to wilt immediately–once this happens all a farmer’s coins may be forfeited. It is only necessary for a farmer to be consistently plugging into Facebook to check on his farmstead. 

 The pseudo farm is a baby of the game network Zynga, who claims to be the number one provider of gaming experiences on social networks. Zynga was founded in 2007, and has since provided a platform for players to express themselves and bond as deeply—or as trivially—as they feel comfortable doing with cyber friends. Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga has since created games that stem from the concept of Farmville such as Café World, YoVille!, and Mafia Wars.

Some believe Farmville’s popularity derives from the increasing emphasis on social networking as a medium of communication. Rodica Neamtu, Special Instructor of Information Technology at Emmanuel agrees. “Social networking sites seem to be ‘a way of life for this new generation,” She states. “[Kids] make connections with friends and strangers in the cyber-world, finding the same kind of joy that older generations once found in hanging out at the mall.

However, it seems that Farmville and other real-time networking games are not only attracting the younger generation, but older baby-boomers as well. 

“I know parents who log onto their kid’s Facebooks to play Farmville,” Rodrigues says. “My old boss is on it—we’re farm neighbors.”

Whatever the demographic, players are keen on the game just like many other, for the reason that it is a means of expression. “It is collectively playing on a playground ‘without borders’,” Neamtu notes in a written statement,  “as long as people do it for fun and don’t get too serious about, I think it’s just another way to pass time.”

Only—what constitutes seriousness in the online venue? Issues that may arise from the all too fast obsession with social networking devices include loss of active human interaction and contact, among others. Teenagers who once would call or stop by a friend’s house now are micro-blogging and “poking” friends via the World Wide Web. However, Neamtu doesn’t necessarily believe that the increasing popularity of social networking and use of technology skews mediums of communication—but that it simply extends this communication into the digital world. “Life changing situations seem easier to cope with when your support system is one click away,” She asserts.

Either way, with a near 8 million daily players of the game and 72 million monthly active users residing from all over the globe, Farmville has become the most popular game application on Facebook, and is paving the way for future social networking and simulation games.

Rodrigues agrees, all the while defending herself from the people who tease her addiction. “I’m not really into gaming, but this game just gets me. It’s a little break from real life, after all nothing bad happens on Farmville.”

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