Commentary 21 Feb 2010 12:38 am
Here is my Feb. 18, 2010, column from The Alliance Review:
My wife is in the spare bedroom, planting rice, strawberries, bell peppers and squash.
She has considered switching to watermelons exclusively, like the farm of a relative she recently visited. She’s fostered this new green thumb in the dead of winter, without once leaving the house or the soft glow of the computer screen.
The name of her agribusiness obsession is “Farmville,” a game associated with the social-networking site Facebook. Visitors to Farmville do everything a regular farmer does, minus the bills, droughts and dirty hands.
My wife is not alone. According to one estimate, 74 million players worldwide have beaten their ploughshares into pixels and joined the Farmville craze.
I’m amazed that she is interested because her lack of plant smarts is so extreme that she kills any living thing with the temerity to put down roots within 20 yards of the front door. Every Mother’s Day ends in tragedy, with the bleached, skeletal remains of some poor potted thing being deposited unceremoniously in the garbage can come trash day. Once, she kept a fern alive for two months. It was nigh miraculous.
She has nearly the same track record with animals. Oh, none has died on her watch, but that’s only because she sticks me with the mundane realities of pet ownership — cleaning litter boxes, filling food and water dishes, putting the dog in and out. Her pet job, she asserts, is to love them, a task that is much easier when I’m keeping them alive.
This hasn’t kept her from raising her own menagerie online, a herd consisting of pigs, cows, horses, sheep and a goat.
This weekend, my wife and our niece worked on the farm for a good part of Friday night, completing a stable and a fence. Then they fertilized the gardens of other Facebook visitors, trading favors with other farmers. I hear they’ve bought a pond, and that the duck has been out all night, that philandering fowl. Tragedy struck Monday, when her aloe vera crop withered; a case of computer art imitating life, I suppose.
My wife recently frittered away an entire lunch chatting with a friend about their respective agricultural prospects online. At some point, they both agreed that it was weird to spend a lunch break talking about something that doesn’t exist in the physical world, but I suppose it’s no odder than getting wrapped up in a good book or TV show. (And as a guy with 15 boxes filled with thousands of comic books, I’m not one to cast the first stone when it comes to obsessive pastimes.)
I will, however, cast aspersions on those who take Farmville to the next level, buying virtual items with real cash. Apparently, some sort of “non-withering tool” keeps crops from dying while players are away doing nonessential things like working or eating. It costs 30 real bucks, payable by credit card. Craziness.
My one experience with computer simulation games was “Rollercoaster Tycoon” several years ago. I built an impressive amusement park, erected expensive coasters, staffed them with trained personnel, and wandered back to my bologna sandwich, serene in the knowledge that whatever my status in the world of flesh and blood, in my simulated paradise I was Donald Trump.
I came back a few hours later to find negative cash flow and thousands of visitors throwing up all over the park. In my haste, I had forgotten to install restrooms. Since then, I haven’t bothered with computer simulations.
If I were truly enterprising, I could sell the virtual barf to my wife. It would be the perfect fertilizer for her farm.