In the past month I have lost a few friends. A college friend, Karina Murjani, has been so busy raising eggplants on her farm that all attempts at maintaining our friendship have been delayed until she harvests her crop.
Strawberries and sweet potatoes were her earlier preoccupations. She also has a barn, a bungalow, a greenhouse and cattle to tend to. I should thus be more sensitive to her time constraints, she reasons.
The exotic piece of land driving this obsession has no physical address. It is a virtual farm and my friends are collectively employed as earnest farmers in this parallel universe.
Farmville is a Facebook application, introduced when the social networking site resurfaced with a facelift. It is a real-time farm simulation video game where scores of Facebookers play out their bucolic fantasies.
Ardent fans will justify that the game, though silly, requires strategy. Virtual money drives all transactions on Farmville. Trading and gifts are means to acquire all your Farmville possessions, ranging from fancy tools to enviable property to livestock.
"I'm hooked because it’s very competitive. There’s good money riding on negotiation with neighbouring farmers and if you make the right moves your assets, returns and plot of land will only multiply,” says Nicky Ramnani, 24, who checks his farm every 12 hours. Three weeks ago he announced that he was quitting Farmville. “But I was back on it in three hours,” he says.
Anahita Irani, 42, has been farming for a month. She no longer takes her afternoon nap. “I spend about six hours farming. It relaxes me and is a great respite from a fast-paced city life,” says the pre-school teacher. Besides endearing animated features, the game’s biggest draw is its ability to turn reasonable people into farm-crazy folk. On a holiday to McLeod Ganj, Maria Alves, a dear friend, didn’t expect to be dragged to a cyber cafe by her husband to help him harvest his wheat. “I start and end my workday with Farmville. I leave it on through the day at work. A prospering farm needs constant attention,” explains Oliver Alves for whom the game has set off a desire to own a real farm in the future.
Non-farmers get left out in conversations about harvests, black sheep, chocolate milk-yielding cows Farmville dissenters may not outnumber fans, but they make a case for the real deal. “Planting a real tree is a lot more fulfilling. Addiction to a web application isn’t aiding in the reduction of the carbon footprint,” a non-farmer argues.
I’m a new inductee. A city slicker who gave up city living because she missed having friends. It’s day two and my strawberries have withered due to neglect. No smart farmer will invest in a doomed farm and, as it appears, neither in their non-farming friends.