Yes, I know that Farmville is a silly little game. I like it. (There, I said it. ) Like any pastime, it’s easy to get sucked into spending way too much time at it. I enjoy spending a few minutes at a time on it. Lately, it has taken soooooo long to load that it’s just not worth it. That’s happened before and it eventually clears up.
It occurred to me some time ago that Farmville provides an excellent set of lessons in market capitalism. It’s not perfect as such, but then neither is capitalism as we practice it.
Farmville provides complete equality of opportunity:
Everyone starts out at the same level with the same four or six plots of land, with the same crops available to plant. When you start adding neighbors, you quickly see that your neighbors are at very different levels of play, and when you visit them you see that they have done different things with their farms. Some have focused on trees; others on livestock; others on crops; others on buildings. But they all started out with a few strawberry and eggplant crops. All the prices for all the goods you buy are the same across the game, all the prices for the goods you sell are the same across the game. There are some things that are only available upon reaching milestones, but all players reaching those milestones will have the same access.
The rules apply equally and cannot (for the most part) be skirted:
Because the game is played from a server, the server dishes up to you the same game it dishes up to everyone else. Your game details are stored in your account and served up when you log in. It is conceivable that someone could hack into the server and change account details. Because there is no real-world incentive, I cannot imagine why anyone would do so. While doing so would admittedly provide benefit to the player who did it, no harm would come to either the players or to Zynga, the producer of the game. Zynga doesn’t pay players for winning, there is no tangible reward for achievements. The game stays in the game.
There are bonuses for achievements:
When you achieve certain milestones or objectives, Farmville rewards you, sometimes in coins, sometimes in Farmville cash, sometimes in experience points, sometimes in items; sometimes a combination of these.
You can help your friends but are not compelled to do so:
You can participate in your friends’ goals, you can help out on their farms, you can share bonuses, you can give stuff away, and you can be on the receiving ends of all these activities. Nothing in the game requires you to help friends, but achieving objectives can happen faster when you do, sometimes you will get an unexpected reward for helping a friend, and very often you will need help from your friends to meet objectives.
You can play solo and make progress, or you can play socially and make more progress:
It is possible to play Farmville without playing socially; you buy seeds and trees and objects from an invisible market and sell to the same invisible market. But you will meet the goals and milestones much quicker when enjoying the social aspects of the game.
There are other ways to learn how market capitalism works, one of the best ways is to actually participate in it. One of the fallibilities in using Farmville as an object lesson is that while you participate in a market in a way, the risks and rewards are not real. To really understand what a business is, you need to have one. It just doesn’t hurt all that much to let an electronic crop wither and die when I can’t get back to it in time to harvest it. Since my internet connection is satellite, it is completely dependent on the weather. When I am in full-on playing mode, I keep a bit more watch on the weather (not much, just a bit); I want to make sure I can harvest a crop in time to keep it from dying, and if it’s raining at my house, I can’t do that. So in that way, my “farming” experience is –just a bit—like a real farming experience. That’s where the similarity ends. That said, I think Farmville bears a stronger likeness to market agriculture than Monopoly bears to real estate.