Friday, June 18, 2010


being on facebook, as everyone on the planet is, i recently added the application that allows me to play "farmville". now i am not a farmer--though i am quite good with plants, as masae, the elderly asian tenant in my building, will tell you. last year she cautiously gave up the planters along the drive to my landscaping skills, and the place has never looked better, thank you very much. i proceeded to pull odd looking plants and i added groundcover, and i transplanted some of the remaining plants to better locations and generally made the planters look as though they made sense.

i got this talent for working with plants from my father, who was also very good working with plants. back when i was growing up in the early 70's, my dad was the one who did the yardwork. in fact, back then that is what dads did! on weekends, they mowed lawns, trimmed hedges, pulled weeds, and then stood with the hose watering the whole place down while shooting the bull with the neighbor dads. very unlike today, where doing yardwork is now considered "manual labor", and everyone just hires a mexican gardener with power equipment. now my dad was mexican, which may have contributed to his gardening talent, but i have to tell you that ethnicity comes with no guarantee! the mexican gardener that our building uses is pretty much just a plant butcher--there is no artistry evident--fortunately he doesn't come near my driveway planters.

anyway, i learned to do yardwork from my dad. he taught me that. it helped that i loved working with plants...i loved watching them grow and respond to care and watering. i loved the balance between having control over nature and allowing nature its rein. plants always surprise you, that's the thing. you can actually have a relationship with plants, which i do to this day.

but i am not a farmer. however, you would not know this by looking at my farm in farmville. in just a few days, i have planted and harvested eggplant, peanuts, wheat, strawberries, squash, and soybeans. i currently have lilacs growing in one patch of ground. i am almost a level 7 farmer. but i must confess, i am not the only one responsible for my farm's prosperous condition. the only reason my crops are growing all the way to harvest is because my neighbors are coming over and fertilizing them (my sister and two of my neices). now, i think that this is the only way to get your plants fertilized, because i have looked in the market and fertilizer is not available to buy! i find this very interesting. what this means is that in order to have a successful farm, you HAVE to have friends as neighbors. if you plan to start your farm in the middle of nowhere and intend to remain isolated, your crops will eventually wither and die. they will die. there will be nobody around to fertilize them.

this is where farmville ceases to be just an internet game.

i read somewhere that someone has called farmville a waste of time. whoever this person is, they are sorely missing the point. by setting the game up so that participants have to rely on the kindness and generousity of our neighbors, the creators have, by accident or by intent, simulated the kind of community culture that our societies lived out for thousands and thousands of years. as i have mentioned in previous posts, up until the industrial revolution, we had to rely on others or we would not have survived. usually, everyone had to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole community. of course, we still have to rely on others to survive, we just don't have to interact with them anymore. farmville encourages community, albeit a digital one, but i will tell you that since my neighbors are family who live far away from me, this feels as close to the real thing as i can get living in los angeles. we visit each others farms, fertilize each others plots, and give each other gifts. we hear about each others progress, and get to share in the spoils of everyone who prospers. lovely.

but there is one hitch.

whenever you visit anyone else's farm, they are never there. there are only the amimals: chickens clucking, ducks quacking, cows mooing, lambs bleeting. but no other farmers. it is eerie--you stop in and everything seems fine, but nobody is there. so what do you do? you fertilize the crops, maybe chase away some foxes, and then leave. later, the owner will come back and notice that you have been there, and they may send you a nice gift. but why isn't anyone ever home when i go to visit???this bothers me, and is the primary flaw in a game that attempts to promote community. i am not sure which is worse: seeing people in reality who i never talk to; or never seeing people in cyberspace who i want to talk to.

i have been told that there are other games that allow more interaction, and you can actually create an avatar, which is both cool and spooky. but in the meantime, i will continue to tend my farm and fertilize my neighbors crops, until i can figure out what my next online adventure will be. in a way, i think i am "trying on" ways of being so that i can match a pleasurable online experience to a real life city. i have already decided that, wherever i go, i want to have a relationship with plants, but in don't want to give up my relationship to people in order to do that. the cows can tend to each other though..

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