Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lessons Even a Master Gardener Could Glean From FarmVille

Last week, I posted the results of a brief poll on the relationship of FarmVille on Facebook to gardening and agriculture. One of my participants did not respond to my poll, preferring to provide a contextual response. I am providing her response as a guest blog.

Lessons Even a Master Gardener Could Glean From FarmVille

Esmaa Self is a a Master Gardener and blogger with both a seasonal outside garden and year-round greenhouse in northern Colorado. Follow her blog Es*sense: Esmaa's Sense of Things

Imagine a world wherein computer gamers learn to grow virtual food. Now imagine that these players gather agricultural know-how while nurturing rows of pixels. In early December 2009, Zynga, creators of the Facebook social game known as FarmVille, announced that the application had surpassed 70 million active monthly users.

According to the USDA, in 1997 there were 1.9 million farms in America. The number of American farms has been in decline since it peaked at 7 million in 1935. With an estimated population of 300 million, it would seem America needs to turn computer farmers into actual farmers.

Thus, the FarmVille phenomenon may have hands-in-soil types wondering what can be learned from a chocolate dairy make believe world. If the question applies solely to farming, the answer from this master gardener and daily FarmVille player would be: not much. Oh, there are rudimentary lessons such as ‘seeds grow in soil’, ‘plants come from seeds’, ‘cows produce milk’ and ‘chickens produce eggs’ but of these lessons, the latter half are sullied by game inaccuracies. The FarmVille farm might house pink cows that produce strawberry milk and golden hens whose eggs produce Zen gardens. In FarmVille, there is no slaughter. There, horned animals (bulls, reindeer, buffalo, deer) are brushed as if tame and dairies produce green and pink calves. The FarmVille cat is more profitable than its sheep, swine or fowl. There is no weather with which to contend. There is no water to buy, no real market for one’s goods. The best farmers are those who keep track of time: strawberries sprout and ripen between breakfast and lunch; potatoes require three days and coffee is ready for harvest in 16 hours.

So, what real world benefit might a gamer gain in such a place as this? Social skills. What FarmVille lacks in terms of future farmer education, it more than makes up for in terms of socialization and cooperation. To expand one’s barn, one must enlist the help of neighbors. To lay the most golden eggs, a farmer needs friends to feed her hens. Others fertilize your crops so that you can earn additional points. Too, you’ll find most personality types in the virtual farming crowd. You’ll encounter hot heads, over-achievers, clutter bugs, hoarders and even nice folks. Learning to navigate the farmers offers plenty of opportunity to acquire life skills, believe me, but hands-on-keyboard, head-in-game is no way to learn to farm.

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