I do not really play a lot of competitive computer games. Shooting up a building in Counter-Strike or fighting off aliens in Starcraft can be fun, but sort of like eating multiple cupcakes is fun. I wouldn’t want to do it everyday.
My boyfriend and I always have a few things we do together online when we’re apart (as we are this summer). It gives us a way to create new in-jokes, and have new experiences just the two of us. This summer, we’re playing Farmtown on Facebook. It is a game where every player is given an acre, and access to a seeds, trees, animals and fences. After the first few weeks, once I had enough cash to be above subsistence farming and enough experience points to have access to a variety of seeds, I began designing my farm.
There are dozens of different ways I could run my farm–I could crowd my pigs into a barbwire-fenced enclosure and grow nothing but cabbage, or I could grow an apple-and-pear orchard ringed with marigolds, or a rice-and-sunflower plantation with tons of cats and chickens. The game allows for personal preferences to play out.
It is something of a spiritual exercise deciding what to plant. Not that it matters to the game whether I alternate seed species, or give my animals enough room to graze. But in a way it does–I am choosing how I want to form my acre, and those choices reflect on me.
The best feature of the game (other than the unreasonably cute pigs) is that no one can do harm to others. Neighbors (who I choose) can come over and water my roses, and I can clean up their farms after tornadoes. However, no one can burn down my farmhouse, or steal my pigs, or stop on my lilies. I can invite a stranger from the Market to my farm to harvest at harvest time (depending on my choices, this can be every 1-3 days). In fact, if I hire someone to harvest, they get a percentage of the profits. The game is designed to encourage mutually beneficial relationships.
Farmtown has started to remind me of Anne Lamott’s spiritual acres:
“…Every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. As long as you don’t hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto-wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.” —from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, 1994.
In Farmtown, I have absolute control over my acre, and whatever I decide to do with that control, will show. This is my acre:
About half of my land is covered with pretty-and-profitable sunflowers. Scattered in groves in the middle is a mix of orange and apple trees. The interior of my acre is a mix of watermelons, coffee plants, rice fields, and cabbage (which is a surprisingly pretty plant). I have a garden of flowers on the left-hand side, and other one just outside my paddock. In the upper right, I have a small farmhouse and a silo, with a little rustic table and lots of pigs, chickens and sheep wandering around freely. Oh, and silly-looking scarecrows.
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”–Albert Einstein