In a piece over on Wired, Kira Greer speaks publicly about the depths of her obsession with Farmville. It makes her sound like a nutter, yes, but it also makes her sound like someone in need of something better.
“I realised I was hooked when I was planning my day around when I knew crops needed to be harvested”, the 39-year-old says, revealing that she knew she’d hit rock-bottom when she left a meeting at her job to go tend some virtual fields. “Once I realised I’d done that, I told my husband and I just came home and had a moment – d’oh! And I realised, OK, I’m taking it a little bit too far.”
An even worse story comes from 56-year-old Cheri Van Hoover. Despite running a real farm, she too devotes an unhealthy amount of time to Farmville. “”What these games give me is a sense of control over my life,” she tells Wired. “It is a neat, orderly place that I can escape to, and where things unfold in a relatively predictable fashion, and I can work out all of my needs for domination and power and control in a safe environment.”
Notice that these women aren’t craving less complex control methods, or games that don’t feature neckless grunts battling aliens. The driving forces behind their obsession are the same as yours or mine: it’s a form of escapism, a means of diverting your attention with a trivial enjoyment.
Look at it that way and the supposed gulf between “core” and “casual” gamers evaporates. We’re all after the same things. We’ve just got to them via different routes.
After all, behind the free-to-play lure and the accessibility of Facebook, Farmville is a cheap, nasty version of Harvest Moon, which for years has been tasking players with the most mundane aspects of rural life: water a crop, water it again, milk a cow, milk it again, etc.
It’s also a cheap, nasty version of Animal Crossing, as like Nintendo’s “life” sim, it requires daily maintenance, asking you to set aside time from your real schedule to make sure your virtual world is in order.
Want an even stranger parallel? It’s a cheap, nasty version of Halo, or Call of Duty, as the social integration – and virtual chest-beating – it affords via Facebook is little different at a base level to the display of your Gamerscore, or nights you set aside to play deathmatch with your friends, or a random matchmaking encounter that develops into a friendship/personal feud.
So “hardcore gamers” should stop looking at these people as the enemy, or as somehow lesser gamers. All they want are the same things you feel after a good session of Total War, or Uncharted, or Fallout. Instead, let’s look at them as people in need of help. Of a leg-up in the gaming world. After all, Farmville might be the first game they’ve ever been hooked on – a gateway game, if you will – and if anyone is going to help them onto something more polished and substantial, it may as well be you.
If you know someone hooked on Farmville, someone you previously thought could or would not play video games, have a chat with them! Ask them what they like about it, why they keep playing, what compels them to log in day in, day out and…water a plant. What they tell you could reveal someone that’s in dire need of an introduction to something a little deeper, like the Football Manager series. Or Animal Crossing. Or maybe ease them in with The Sims. And from there, who knows where they could end up.
If it’s the experience they want, it shouldn’t take much to cajole them into buying, say, a DS or Wii. And if it’s the accessibility of Facebook they enjoy? Well, if all else fails, tell them Civilization is coming to Facebook. We’ll all be playing that.