The diary of a virtual farmer

The allure of having virtual farm on Facebook is baffling to many. Jonathan Cresswell spent two weeks playing the game loved by millions to find out what makes it so addictive.


Jonathan Cresswell's farm on Zynga's Farmville.

Day 1
I’ve started on the farm. My previous experience of farming mainly consists of four-something crop rotations from GCSE History so I’m hoping this will provide me with a highly accurate guide to how life on the land works as a possible future career path. It seems pretty easy so far. You click somewhere to plough the land, you click again to make the strawberries start growing, and then you check back in four hours. Not the most complicated game then.

Day 2
I’m not particularly sure about the point of all of this. I’ve leveled up (whatever that means) and unlocked new things to buy from the store, but there’s still no reason why I’m doing this. There’s no final goal, personal enjoyment or reward, so it’s turned slave labour in to a menial task of clicking squares on a grid on Facebook. I’ll plant more strawberries. Maybe some pumpkins overnight, as they take eight hours to grow…

Day 3
There appears to be a bit of strategy behind the game that I’m trying to figure out. With different crops earning you different money for different lengths of time planted, you’ve got to be a bit tactical about things. Well, not really. After one quick go on the calculator you realise that to make the most money you’ve got to play as often as possible but not for that long. It’s completely backwards compared to most games.

Day 4
I’ve come up with a way of making sure I check my strawberries. Seeing as one session Farmville only has about ten minutes of what can barely be called “gameplay”, I’ve had to turn to playing other games in between checking the farm. That might seem weird to have to do that to keep me interested, but getting some time to play “Peggle” isn’t something to complain about.

Day 5
Everytime I check, Farmville’s all over Facebook. People sending gifts for you, notifications about someone visiting the farm, people posting about what they’ve done on their walls. It’s like some internet disease. You see it, try it, it multiplies, infects people’s walls and gets everywhere. It’s a digital form of peer pressure with the upside of gift sending being a great way to annoy people.

Day 6
Blast. One simple mistake and all my hard work is gone. I forgot to check my plants once and they’re all dead. I’m late by an hour and all the money I’ve invested in crops has gone. No wonder people check this so religiously – you don’t have a choice to.

Day 7
In my attempt to fully immerse myself in the culture of the game I’ve found the official Farmville podcast. Ten minutes of a female voice explaining in detail every little change they’ve made to it this week in the most detail possible. Well, I have had troubles sleeping, so this is just what I needed.

Day 8
Playing this is feeling a bit like a chore. No wonder everybody else’s farms are full of patterns of flowers, animals roaming around, and buildings that don’t serve any purpose. Trying to make it look nice is the only way of keeping yourself occupied. However being the highly mature person that I am I’m just trying to see if I have enough room to write rude words in flowers. Nope, I’m going to need a bigger farm.

Day 9
Every time I log into the game it’s coming up with a pop-up message, suggesting something to buy saying “Ooh wouldn’t this be nice”. However, when you click it throws up a price in Farmville Dollars, a currency you mostly have to spend real money on. Tempting you in with nice treats before stealing your wallet and life away effectively makes it the childcatcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, in the form of an agriculture game.

Day 10
Today the game’s trying to tempt me with an unwither ring, but that’ll cost at least £30. Every time there’s a new pop-up suggesting that I should buy something. I’m waiting for one of them to ask if I’m interested in getting a timeshare.

Day 11
It turns out that if you have a pink cow you get strawberry milk. This appears to be less factually accurate than Wikipedia.

Day 12
Must check farm. This is turning my life in to a downwards spiral. Energy I should be putting in to so-called “important” things such as assignments and research is being wasted on a silly 16 x 16 grid. I need to break free.

Day 13
I’ve got another notification saying that there’s a lost animal on my farm and that I should help it find its way back home. They really should increase the security on these farms as I’m pretty sure none of these have any fences.
Maybe I should buy some fences from the in-game store but that will just take away from my investment in these crops. I get the feeling random animals will still find their way on to my farm.

Final Day
It’s the last day of the experiment and I’ve forgotten to check the site. Oh well, I’m not bothered. I’ve escaped! The second you stop caring, the hold it has over you is broken. Though really it’s got no reason to have a hold on you in the first place. It’s very cleverly engineered. The idea of short bursts of playtime is perfect for Facebook but when they made this they forgot to have any purpose behind it.

Conclusion
Farmville is just a shallow excuse for a game. It’s as complicated as a light switch: click it, and you get more money. There’s no sense of reward at all. You invest time in it and all you get in return is a bigger chore to complete as your farm expands. In terms of getting something out of it, smoking is a much better addiction for you. It might give you cancer, but at least it makes you happy.

2 Responses to The diary of a virtual farmer

  1. James Munro says:

    This isn’t actually a game I play so I can’t comment from personal experience, but I think you’re missing the point.

    People engage with these games as a form of escapism. You approached the task with cynicism from the start – most players will simply be looking to kill a bit of time and the in-game ‘chores’ are probably far more satisfying than administrative work in a 9-5 desk job… especially when you’re getting paid for it on company time.

    With that said, it is also important to note that these games are designed from the ground-up to exploit people’s desire for escapism coupled with not-so-subtle attempts to develop addiction to the repetitive tasks.

    My guess is this game is particularly popular because it can be played through a web-browser which considerably lowers the barrier of entry (no console or powerful hardware required). Not everyone has the required hand-to-eye coordination required to operate a joypad and you might find that the majority of Farmville players are what the industry refers to as ‘casual gamers’, where you are more likely to be a ‘core gamer’ with more desire for triple-A titles.

  2. David Clare says:

    For once I agree with The Linc. Maybe the task was approached with cynicism, maybe the author is a serious gamer and to him this game is nothing… but it is Farmville. For the rest of my argument, read the article again. It’s all there.