FarmVille -- A Love Story
You should know up front, this is not a love story. It's really more of a like story. I am not a "Hardcore Gamer." While I do play WoW, kill more than my share in FPSs, and play a lot of video games, my guild doesn't have a regular raiding schedule, I've never played in a tournament, and I don't have nearly as much time to play games as I'd like. Never-the-less, I'm at least a "Very Serious Gamer." And as a Very Serious Gamer, I for a long time possessed, like many serious gamers, a hefty distain for FarmVille, that sparkly apex of casual gaming. This is the story of how that distain turned into a distinct sensation of "like."
When FarmVille came to my attention several months ago, a couple of facts had become clear: 1) it was immensely popular on Facebook, and 2) lots of people hated it. A quick anecdotal survey of my friends and gaming acquaintances further revealed that gamers in particular loved to hate this freakishly popular little game. I was intrigued, and despite an inclination to simply ride the instinctual wave of derision that rose within me straight on over to this Facebook group, I decided to drag my mouse out into the fields, and give FarmVille a try for myself.
A farm full of useless, decorative junk.
Immediately, I decided that I was going to play FarmVille like the Very Serious Gamer I was. I wanted to be able to say I'd experienced most everything the game had to offer without wasting too much time, or forking over any real money to buy FarmVille Cash. As such, I didn't waste my valuable time and virtual space filling my farm with worthless decorations (above). Rather, I was going to play as efficiently as possible, and power level my way though FarmVille to the highest level that grants an unlock, level 40 (required to purchase the "Buffalo Topiary.") Over the next few months, this was exactly what I did. I didn't buy any buildings, used every inch of available space to plant crops, upgraded my available land by "Neighboring" already addicted Facebook friends, planted the crops which yielded the most experience per hour, harvested crops as soon as they had finished growing to minimize nonproductive downtime, and utilized a popular exploit whereby fencing your farmer into his default starting position, players are able to plant or harvest anywhere on the map instantly, without waiting for the farmer avatar to walk to the crop or plot in question (see below).
The fenced-in-farmer strategy in action.
Everything was going along swimmingly. I was flying through FarmVille, and the experience points and coins were rolling in. But these very riches would eventually come to derail my brilliant endeavor. I was virtually knee-deep in those virtual coins, but I had nothing to spend them on. However, as I perused the menu pages of the FarmVille Market, I spotted the Villa. This, the most expensive item in the game, cost 1,000,000 coins and required the lofty level 34 to purchase. The Villa is the ultimate building in the game and truly the mark of a distinguished FarmVille player. As I was avowedly seeking achievement as I played FarmVille, it seemed only appropriate that I own the finest item that the game had to offer. I began to sometimes plant crops which would yield the maximum number of coins, rather than the maximum amount of experience. The rate at which I gained levels began to slow.
The Villa. Behold the thread that, as it was pulled, would unravel my entire glorious plan.
Even worse, the more I played, the more I found that I genuinely enjoyed parts of the game. There was something relaxing about the constant rhythm of clicking the mouse as I moved through my fields - harvesting, plowing, planting, harvesting, plowing, planting. As I began to enjoy my time on the farm more and more, a few of those useless decorations began to creep their way onto my screen. A goose-shaped topiary here, a FarmVille flag there, a row of lime trees along the edge of the property. I was beginning to make the farm my own. While the focus remained for the moment on leveling and achieving, the allure of acquisitions was beginning to take hold. The last straw materialized as I approached 1,000,000 coins and level 34. With the acquisition of the Villa in sight, my resolve began to waver. Perhaps my farm didn't need to be perfectly efficient. My rigid grid was already marred, as I needed a place to park my tractor, seeder, and harvester, which allowed me to perform each of these actions more quickly. That is when it struck -- the special French Chateau Limited Edition Theme items. Every few weeks, FarmVille introduces a new set of themed limited edition items, and this set fit so well with the internal image I had apparently been subconsciously planning for my soon to be Villa-fied farm, that I was helpless to resist. Before I knew it, I was spending hours placing ivy-covered stone walls, arranging Grecian urns overflowing with flowers, linking Provencal fences and aligning hedges. I planted an orchard, built and stocked a chicken coop, and posted two impressive equine statues at the front gate. And I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. By the time I finally purchased my villa, it was clear that I was hooked. FarmVille had won. I liked it.
My current FarmVille Estate, complete with topiaries, flags, orchards, stone walls, and equine statues.
Was it the relaxing feel of moving through the fields, clicking on each of my plots? The reassuringly cyclic nature of harvesting, plowing, and replanting? The joy of accomplishment as I nestled my villa into the snug little estate-nest I had created for it? The rush of racing back home to log on and harvest before my Peas withered and died? The debate of which of FarmVille's addictive properties had taken hold of me, I will leave for others to suss out. All I know is this: I've come to really like my little virtual farm, and the game that let me create it. And so, I will keep playing FarmVille, even as I continue to lay claim to my title of Very Serious Gamer. After all, I may have an Estate and a Villa, but I'm not yet level 40, and that Buffalo Topiary is still out there, waiting...