Winter 2012, #18


Addicted to FarmVille? Moi?

     by R.A. Rycraft

So you deleted your FarmVille application yesterday. Pretty amazing given what a hardcore FarmVille farmer you became in just three and a half months - 109 days - moving up one level every 1.627 days, making it to level 67. That must be some kind of record. No matter that you needed your honey to sit through a guided tour of both of your farms - the Home farm and the English Countryside farm - before you obliterated them. It seemed vital that he see them, see how beautifully built and organized they were, how reflective of your personality they were - the fully upgraded and productive winery and pub, the decorative library and historical museum that helped establish your farms’ characters, the four dairy barns (which you knew the retired dairy farmer in him would appreciate), the homesteads that welcomed your neighbors when they came to do chores like feed your chickens or fertilize your crops (not that your crops needed much fertilizing since more often than not you fertilized them yourself with the one click “Fertilize All” reward, a reward you searched for everyday by combing through Newsfeed posts to find those shared by your friends); the stone fences around your English Countryside farm that cost you 10,000 coins each but were important to making the farm resemble those you saw in 2005 when you visited the real England, the nursery barns, the horse barns, the pig and sheep pens, the duck ponds, the orchards filled with real-life trees like white walnuts, Haas avocados, Rainier cherries and Granny Smith apples - no rainbow or bubblegum or heart candy or wedding crystal or Kraft Macaroni or Lady Gaga spike trees on your farms. He needed to see the cats that purred red hearts when stroked by your avatar (a perky, short-haired blond wearing blue jean overalls, a pink blouse, and black skater tennis shoes at the moment of obliteration but had been known to wear a princess costume, a Mardi-Gras mask, or an aviator’s cap from time-to-time), the two dogs - Max the border collie and Holly the terrier (the terrier as close as you could get to an avatar dog that looked like the real Holly, the cocker spaniel lying now at your feet, snoring) - both animated and able to run behind you as you worked your way around the farms; the squirrels, rabbits, and reindeer (the reindeer the most exotic animals you’d keep on your farms because the baby elephants and poncho llamas seemed a bit over the top). He needed to see the combiners that harvested, plowed, and seeded with just one click, the large fields of crops that had withered only once early on before you understood the importance of timing since you needed to plant and harvest between 7:00am and 6:30pm most days except on those days when your honey was out of town and you could spend as much time as you wanted working your farms.

What he did not see, and what you did not point out or tell him about, was the gift box that, before inviting him on the tour, you had gone through, attempting to re-gift everything to your neighbors - the 33 special deliveries, 5 mystery boxes, 7 bricks, 1 nail, and 47 bottles - but the game timed you out only allowing you to re-gift the bottles, 1 nail, and a few special deliveries, repeatedly stating it was out of sync and needed to refresh, but what it really meant was that FarmVille knew what you were up to and would not let you quit so easily, it understood your reluctance to waste gifts, it gambled that you cared about your neighbors - all sixty-three of them - and would talk yourself into waiting a few hours to see all those gifts given away and in that time change your mind because, well, chores needed to be done. He did not see nor appreciate the significance of the 1,567,203 Farm Coins you were about to toss, the coins you’d been carefully saving because you needed 2,000,000 of them to expand your farm to the Grand Plantation, just one expansion behind the 4,000,000 coin Farm Estate, the largest land expansion of them all. Fortunately, he did not ask about the 23 FarmVille dollars that could not be gifted to your two FarmVille playing kids and were about to be lost - dollars difficult to accumulate, earning just 1 for each level advanced, the necessity for them generating frustration so great that after one week of playing the game you did what you swore you would not do, spent a dime (except you spent 250 dimes) to buy 500 FarmVille dollars at half price, which allowed you to expand your farm, add several buildings, get a dog, and buy the tractor, seeder, and harvester that would, theoretically, save you time.

The tour done, the time had come to delete the FarmVille app, a task you doubted you’d complete on your own, hence your insistence that your honey witness the destruction of your farms. But he threw you a loop, suggesting that, perhaps, you should not delete the game, suggesting that it offered some sort of therapeutic value and, therefore, should be saved. And for a moment you thought, I don’t have to quit! You thought, I can still play! But the thoughts were short-lived, interrupted by the recollection of the conversation you had with your son Saturday night, the day before yesterday, the day before you deleted your account, the comment that worked on you like an intervention and kept you awake all night contemplating what you were about to do - wipe out your farms - you bragging about reaching level 67 and your son saying, I really don’t care, Mom. You’re spending way too much time on that game. - which he could say with some authority since he was one of your neighbors and his Newsfeed was filled ad nauseum with posts from your game-only Facebook account, your “research” account, and the comment making you think, What am I doing? Why do I keep playing the game? Why am I going to play it again tomorrow? To help my neighbors? To earn mastery points? Mastery points for what? Wasted time? And the die was cast; you had to quit - cold turkey (wondering, for just a second, if there was any such thing as a cold turkey in FarmVille). You recalled, too, the message you sent to each of your FarmVille neighbors that morning, the message that would blindside them because, like your son, they could attest to the amount of time you spent on your farms - depended on the amount of time you spent on your farms - dependable you playing the game full-throttle to the bitter end, sitting with a granddaughter on each knee watching you harvest your last crops and listening to the Lady Gaga album pre-released exclusively to FarmVille farmers - blindsided by the message that read: It's been fun and you've been GREAT, but as of today I will no longer be playing FarmVille and will disappear as your neighbor. Thanks for everything! The message and your honey’s presence intended as insurance that you would follow through. That you would really do it. That you would actually delete FarmVille. They were your accountability factors. You couldn’t very well say Just kidding to your neighbors, could you? And wasn’t your honey the one who scoffed at your research idea, the idea that sent you to FarmVille in the first place, the idea that in order to write a character addicted to a social networking game, you needed to experience a social networking game? You never imagined you’d be sucked in, like Tron or South Park’s Stan. You’re an educated professional with three degrees. You’re a college English professor, the chair of your English department. You have a full and busy personal life, time carefully doled out, like those FarmVille dollars, among your honey, your four kids and your eight grand kids, each warranting minutes of your life joyfully spent with them. Did you think those things inoculated you from the mind-numbing, time-sapping allure of the game?

And so, after you called your son to verify that the farms would be permanently deleted and could not be retrieved, alleviating any possibility that you could change your mind post-obliteration, and with your honey watching over your shoulder, you took a final look around your English Countryside farm, clicked the “Travel” icon and watched your avatar ferried via the British blimp to your Home farm where you looked around one last time before you navigated to your Privacy Settings, scrolled down to Apps and Websites, and placed your cursor on the giant X next to FarmVille. It was hard. Harder than you imagined. You weren’t sure you really wanted to do it. But you knew you needed to do it. So you clicked, and your farms were gone. And as further insurance you wouldn’t change your mind, you navigated to Account Settings, scrolled down to Deactivate and clicked, but Facebook would not let you go without a guilt-trip, so you were prompted with the message Are you sure you want to deactivate your account? And there were several pictures of your neighbors - a low blow since Facebook knew you’d grown accustomed to each face - including notes above the photos: Warm will miss you. Val will miss you. Stephanie will miss you. Christophe will miss you. Brigitta will miss you. But at that point you were resolved. Determined. You had to be free. You had to reclaim your time. So you checked the box that would permanently close your account, positioned your cursor on Deactivate and clicked. The act was, well, anti-climatic. There was no sense of satisfaction, no sense of relief, exhilaration, or despair. There were no FarmVille DTs. You felt more like . . . inviting some of your former neighbors to be real friends because you’d miss them, you’d miss seeing their faces everyday, even though there had been few words exchanged and you knew nothing of them and they knew nothing of you. You’d miss them, and you didn’t want to give them up just because you’d given up the game. You could keep them and not be tempted back into FarmVille. You knew you could do it. You could. You mentioned this to your honey, who gave you that look, the look that means you’re going to hear something you don’t want to hear but probably need to hear. And then he said it. Get a grip.