I admit, after my chapter on farm games was completed, I let the dozens of virtual farms I had once carefully managed languish. But the release of FarmVille 2, in June, couldn’t help but catch my interest, and I’ve now been playing this new, “3D” version for a few months.
If you’re familiar with my earlier grumpiness over the original FarmVille’s lack of ecological aptitude, I’m happy to report that FarmVille 2 makes definite strides in this respect. For one thing, you now actually have to feed your animals in order for them to produce materials, including yes, even the tactfully named “fertilizer.”
Secondly, you now have to water your seeds in order for them to grow. Victory! (If you’ve never played a farm game, and you’re wondering how it’s even possible to farm without watering, let’s just say that wells were purely decorative objects in the original FarmVille.) Zynga has even partnered with Water.org to promote charitable donations toward solving world water shortages.
Of course, in many ways, FarmVille 2 is more of the same. It’s still a paean to pastoral harmony, as well as capital accumulation, spending, and expansion. Even so, I nearly fell out of my chair when I first visited neighbor “Walter” and this speech bubble popped up:
Capitalism is king, they say? It’s fascinating to see the game’s inescapable subtext blazoned so boldly. Meanwhile, FarmVille 2 has already led Wired contributor Ryan Rigney to dub it “the perpetual-motion money machine,” while Stephen Totilo’s New York Times review concludes that FarmVille 2 and games like it inevitably “retain the stench of a casino.” Even Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton, who genuinely gave the game the old college try, eventually had to bid the game goodbye.
At this point, I consider myself a connoisseur of the cunning reward-and-frustration dynamics characteristic of these supposedly “free,” “casual,” and “social” games, so I’m hardly fazed by the constant temptations to buy and then spend “farm cash,” rather than coins. For now, I’m just happy that watering is now a crucial game mechanic and that it is a scarce, but renewable resource. Consider me temporarily placated.