Student - February 3, 2010

Farming friends

Farmville has nearly 75 million active users. Wageningen students are also getting hooked on the Facebook virtual farm.

The farm of Nicolette
Benjamin Jongenburger, a fifth-year International Development Studies student, started playing Farmville when invited to by a house-mate. 'I reckoned it would be good to do something constructive, seeing stuff grow and building things up. I was able to buy a pink tractor in no time.' Pablo Rouwet, in his eighth year studying Nutrition and Health, has been playing the game since September. 'I think farms are pretty cool and it's the perfect combination with my work on my Major. I spend all day in front of the computer. My first goal was to beat a friend. I managed that but I've been getting behind again since my holiday.'
 You play Farmville with your own avatar: a little figure with huge, cute eyes. There are juicy strawberries, cereals and glistening aubergines in the fields; after they have been harvested you have to plough the fields and sow crops.  You also get help and presents from your neighbours. These are Facebook friends who also play Farmville. Players get money and experience points for everything they do and as a result accumulate more and more things: an apple tree, a useless but fun bike, a brown cow that produces chocolate-flavoured milk.

Unfriending
You can progress faster if you are prepared to hand over real money to Zynga, the American company that makes the game. Pablo: 'Yeah, right! I'm not that stupid. But I have made some extra Facebook friends; I don't even know 19 of my 64 neighbours but they still loyally fertilize my plants and feed my chickens. And I need them to get certain awards. Then I'll unfriend them again.'
Pablo and Benjamin use the game primarily to take a break from their daily routine. Benjamin:  'I lead a pretty busy life and that means you need to do something pointless every now and again to relax. But it got to the stage where I was calculating when I would need to log in again in order to harvest my crops. That was going too far.'
Pablo remains enthusiastic. 'I do spend a bit more time on it than I should - about one hour a day. But it is also fairly depressing sitting here all day working on my Major. When I had to do experiments in the lab I always had to wait two hours and shake a test tube every half an hour. In between, I had the choice of reading an article or playing Farmville.'

Anticlimax
Despite Farmville's popularity, it is not particularly exciting. Pablo: 'Do you know what I like about it? There is always a new goal; it doesn't have a limit. If you finish a computer game it is such an anticlimax. With Farmville you keep getting to the exciting final stage and then the creators think up something new again. I now have one goal: getting a trophy for all the crops. Once I have all of them on my farm I'll be finished.'
 'What did people use to do at work when they got bored?' wonders Pablo. 'Keep getting coffees? Play noughts and crosses with the guy next to them, rummage through a card tray?' Perhaps they did, but they also used to water real plants.

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