Friday, June 10, 2011

Self-Sufficiency and the Philosophy of Farmville

Lately, Farmville has been awash with Quests of all sorts, from the continuing saga of the English Countryside to new Craftshop Quests and the 2nd Anniversary Birthday Celebration of the game itself.

We often discover things about ourselves when playing games such as Harvest Moon and Farmville, the sort of games that are open-ended and allow individual choices on the part of the player. I did not really discover anything NEW about myself, but certain personality traits have been reinforced in playing Farmville, Fantasy Kingdoms and Rune Factory.

For a start, I definitely am a creature of habit who likes to return to a place that is familiar and a place that becomes increasingly invested with memories and pleasurable visual encounters. In other words, if I create a beautiful montage or corner in a Kingdom or on a farm, it pleases me to return to it to discover it anew each time I play the game. Memories, of course, are not merely memories of the actual game, but memories from real life of events that occurred during the period that I played the game. Certain Harvest Moon games have extremely poignant memories attached to them because of the fact that the game brought me consolation and necessary distraction at times of personal tragedy or great physical agony. It therefore would make no sense for me to destroy and then reconstruct a farm or kingdom completely unless I never was happy with it.

The second trait that is both good and bad is that of being of an inveterate packrat. I am as much a packrat in Harvest Moon and Farmville as I am in real life. It disturbs me greatly to lose items that are invested with significance. Other 'useful' items are saved for the chance that they may be needed in the future. The latter trait is one I could modify somewhat without too much damage to the psyche. After all, one can purchase a new box if one needs to send a parcel. One needn't save old boxes... (That habit was born when I sold dolls, and it actually made sense then, but I now am beginning to jettison boxes that are not being used.) In Farmville, I recently have begun to 'clean house' a little as well, because of lack of space and a packed inventory.

Farmville has changed immensely since the early days when I had one little farm instead of two large estates and very few neighbours to help me complete Quests or even construction projects. In the past year, I have become 'friends' with many of my Neighbours, people I met through Farmville, Lovely Farm and Fantasy Kingdoms. In that sense, Facebook as a social network can be very positive.

It is interesting to see how the characters of other people are displayed not only by their choice of games but by the way they behave when they play a game. Many individuals are quite happy to play both social games that involve assistance to Neighbours and combat games that require hostile actions towards their Neighbours. Others play only one type of game, either bored by the idea of sending gifts to Neighbours or put off by the idea of confronting them in combat.

I personally dislike online combat games. If I wish to take out my aggressions on some one, I would rather do it unilaterally against a computer-generated enemy. I loved the early Lord of the Rings games for handheld systems and consoles because my enemies there were devoid of any positive traits and could be slain without any hesitation or regret. I hated everything that Sauron represented and found his minions hideous for the most part. I therefore took pleasure in destroying them.

When enemies are attractive physically or are human beings or animals, it is more difficult for me to slay or destroy them. The games I really found I disliked were those that required the destruction of neighbouring civilisations, whether or not they were computer-generated or built by Neighbours. I do not like to leave smoking devastation behind me and I truly hate to return to my own civilisation to find it in ruins.

In any event, to return to the subject of Farmville, it was one of my first experiences of playing a game where success REQUIRED Neighbours and assistance to and from other people. When one is not playing the game actively, requests from Neighbours can be a trifle annoying, but one needs to remember that those same Neighbours gave assistance when one required it! When one is playing a game actively, Neighbours who respond to requests in a timely fashion are invaluable and it actually kind of restores faith in humanity to some extent. It is a sort of kindness, even if the items that are given are 'virtual' and have no real value.

In this context, it has horrified me to discover how greedy and thoughtless some players can be. There are wonderful players who share their valuable Trees and Animals by posting them on their Walls freely to every one. The greedy Neighbours who take every single Tree when some one posts more than one and who never post a 'thank you' in return are more common than one would like to think. Again and again, I have seen pleas from generous Farmers for their Neighbours to make a simple response of 'Like' when they take something so that other players are not disappointed when they click on the Item only to discover that it is gone.

I am going to write another article on Facebook gaming protocol soon because I do think some players are merely ignorant or thoughtless and have not considered the significance of their actions when they take three Items instead of one from a Neighbour's Wall and leave no comment to thank the giver.

Today, when I was harvesting my Crops on my Home Farm, I realised that the centre core of the Farm has not changed much in a year. In that central space, I grow all the Ingredients needed for my favourite Spa Recipe, which is 'Farmer's Frenzy Perfume'. Many player make their lives easier by concentrating on Recipes that require only two or three Ingredients. I, of course, make my life as complicated as possible, by making the Recipe that requires the largest number of Ingredients!

Actually, I have a passion for Flowers and Perfume, so Farmer's Frenzy Perfume was a natural choice. It is a Recipe that is unlocked only when the Spa is fully upgraded to Level 5. I therefore spent many months looking at it longingly, striving mightily to make enough money and create sufficient items to unlock it and to be able to purchase the last upgrade with Coins that I had earned through my own labours. It uses ingredients that require a fairly decent level of experience as well.

One can purchase Bushels from Neighbours, of course, and doing so is an important part of gameplay, but I like to be able to supply all the ingredients for my perfume myself if Neighbours do not provide them in their Market Stalls.

A favourite Flower of mine is the Iris and unlocking the Iris as a Crop represented another important milestone in my Farmville experience. I still reserve one plot on my Home Farm for Irises simply because they are so lovely. I remember the days when I had not unlocked the Iris but needed it as an Ingredient. I would wait impatiently for some one else to grow them so that I could obtain Bushels from another Player's Market Stall. In the early days, I had only one Neighbour who ever grew Irises and she did so only occasionally. Later, I had a Neighbour who grew the ingredients for the Petal Sachet Co-Op Job consistently.

There is a vintage British comedy about self-sufficiency and farming. In England, it was entitled, 'The Good Life'. When aired in the States, it was given the title, 'Good Neighbours'. When I first began to play Farmville, I thought it would be an exercise in self-sufficiency, an attempt to grow everything oneself that one might need. In fact, self-sufficiency is the antithesis of the Farmville philosophy. The entire focus of the game is sharing, whether it is Bushels, Animals or unique Items.

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