Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fun ways to waste time!

Confession time - I'm as addicted as the next person to Facebook, particularly to the various apps (applications, for the uninitiated) they offer, despite K's amused disapproval and warnings on what great time sucks these are. But these apps are fun; they're relaxing; and there are times when you actually get to learn things about people you thought you knew - who's competitive, who's obsessive, who's bitchy, for instance.

Farmville, my favourite - and that, I suspect of thousands of others - is, as the name suggests, all about farming and the farm life. You have your own plot where you grow cereals, fruits, vegetables; plant all sorts of trees; and tend to your livestock. The trees and animals/birds mostly come as gifts from friends, who are your Farmville neighbours, while the seeds you buy from the market. You buy at lower rates and sell at market prices, thus increasing your store of FV coins and cash - with that money, you grow your farm, buy all sorts of essentials (like wells, hay wagons, fences, etc.) and buildings (like your own little cottage, or a barn for the cows), and steadily climb up levels (because all this activity rewards you with experience points). You work on your neighbours' farms for coins and XP, which is fun - and it also gives you an opportunity to see what they've been up to on their farms. It is competitive, since you are climbing levels, after all - and you can crow over each achievement on your home page - but on the whole, it is a peaceful, happy, friendly game. Unlike some other farming games (yes, there are more - many more!) where you can actually sabotage your neighbours' crops and steal their animals! (closes eyes in horror)

Sorority Life, on the other hand, is not so - well - friendly, or peaceful, or happy. As the name suggests, it is about joining sororities, and asking your friends to be your sisters - you can dress your avatar in cool clothes, get a cool job, and 'socialise' for money and influence points, which again helps you climb levels. But here's the flipside - it is fiercely competitive, and downright bitchy. You can 'fight' other girls - especially those with houses smaller than yours - and each win nets you cash and more influence. And, as my house is pitiably small, I tend to be 'fought' rather often, and 'destroyed' with dismal frequency. You learn some rather amusing details of American life - for instance, a waitress makes more money than a research assistant, and therefor is a more lucrative career option; and being an art gallery intern, however exciting that sounds, ranks way down than a wedding planner. The game cleverly stokes the competitiveness that's unfortunately inherent between women while harping, at the same time, on sisterhood and solidarity - and while Sorority Life is the only place where I (or my avatar, to be precise) can dress in Christian Dior, wear Manolo Blahnik sandals, carry a Prada bag and drive a Cadillac Escalade in this lifetime, this game is getting a tad too annoying - and boring - for me.

But why, as I was asking K recently, do resolutely urban people, who take pride in their country's rapid urbanisation, their mushrooming malls, branded clothes, pedigree dogs and fancy cars, get addicted to a game about farming and tending animals? Granted, you're not really expected to muck out or get down and dirty in real fields - everything's done with the click of the mouse in air-conditioned confines - but still, farming?? Seriously? Because it represents an idyll, K said, that we all secretly - and some of us not so secretly - long for; or is perhaps because you can be in total control of what goes on in your farm, without having to contend with, say, the vagaries of the monsoons, a control you cannot extend to any other aspect of your life; or perhaps because a gentle, friendly game like Farmville takes one away from the relentless competition and expectations that permeate most people's lives.

Or perhaps I'm reading way too much into an essentially mindless game that is, above all else, FUN! :D