Where Have You Been? Oh, Just Tending My Virtual Crops

by | Aug 23, 2010

Simon Dumenco, writing for Ad Age, taps a nerve when discussing the rise of social gaming and what it means for our culture.

In FarmVille, of course, you “work” your own plot of land, while FrontierVille stokes nostalgia for Manifest Destiny. (“Howdy, Pardner! Come join us on the frontier, where you’ll carve out a home in the wilderness and raise a family.”) Cafe World makes you a small-business owner/operator.

If only.

Think about all this for a moment: An American gaming company is captivating millions around the world by getting them to obsess about fake food, fake business and fake real estate. How America-right-now is that? The country that gave the world the housing bubble and the KFC Double Down (according to figures recently released by the World Health Organization, 67% of Americans are overweight) is betting big on pixelated playgrounds filled with sprawling plots of land, farm-fresh produce and fantasies of “cooking, slicing, chopping, sautéing and baking your way to the top of the culinary world!” in Cafe World’s words.

FarmVille has become the most popular game application on Facebook, with over 61.6 million active users and over 24.1 million Facebook application fans in June 2010. If you spend any time on Facebook at all, a portion of your friends will spam you with Farmville requests. Dumenco asks, “How America-right-now is that?” I might simplify his rhetorical question to “How American is that?” Day-dreamy ambition is indeed an American trait. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent his entire career addressing the topic, and he’s one of our most literate 20th century voices.

Dumenco admits to being depressed by the rise of social media gaming. I know what he means but it’s important to make room for the imagination. There are more imaginative things to do than play games, online or off, but on the grand scale of attention robbing activities, Farmville and its lot are relatively innocent. First person shooter games are another story. Giving kids toy guns is bad enough, but now we provide the whole killing experience via the click of a mouse. Now that’s depressing. It’s also sick and wrong.