Tag Archive: ISLE

FarmVille 2: “Capitalism is king”

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.

New farm games article available

I’ve just received an advance-access copy of a short piece I wrote for Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, called “Back to the Virtual Farm: Gleaning the Agriculture-Management Game.” The print version will be out in the next issue, 19.1 (Winter 2012), but you can now access the PDF here. This article is a slightly expanded version of a talk I gave at ASLE this past summer (and the essay that was awarded best paper)… here I’ve added more detail regarding farm games’ treatment of water and soil, but the full, chapter-length version will have to wait until I publish my larger dissertation work.

I’ve received several requests for the paper from ASLE members and artists and scholars working at the nexus of food politics, environmental justice, and environmental history, so I’m happy to make this work available. If you get a moment, please let me know how you use the work in your classes and whether or not it’s helped you to bring both games and food-related issues into discussion. For example, I believe that Barbara Eckstein at University of Iowa has incorporated the work into a “Locally Grown” Literature & Society class (involving undergraduates, actual farmers, and IT professionals), and I’ve had several stimulating conversations with artist Amy Franceschini of Futurefarmers over the potential for a different kind of farm game: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife are pursuing one such idea, and the University of Washington Bothell has turned social farm-game mechanics toward wetlands restoration. But I think we’re just scratching the surface of what is possible!