My ability to grasp what many people consider to be “normal” is slipping away, a little bit each day.
I wonder if this is how my dad felt when, over a decade ago, I explained to him that I didn’t always need to go to the office in order to do my work. My dad never used computers and was usually content to shake his head in awe when people tried to explain what they were doing with technology. But this remote control stuff seemed to seriously get to my dad. The fact that I was working from home, “Almost like I was sitting in front of my workstation at the office,” was too much for him. It wasn’t a look of awe and wonder. He was genuinely baffled and, I think, a bit frightened.
These weren’t his exact words, but it was something very close to:
“I watched those guys walk on the moon… At the time, I wondered, was it a movie set? Was the whole point of it just to f*&@ with the Russians? Whether or not it was real, it somehow made a bit of sense to me. I could at least grasp that it could have happened.
What you’re doing there… That’s totally beyond me.”
Flash forward to today. As I watched Jesse Schell’s presentation, it became my turn to feel baffled and frightened.
FarmVille? What is that?
According to Wikipedia:
FarmVille is a real-time farm simulation game developed by Zynga, available as an application on the social networking website Facebook. The game allows members of Facebook to manage a virtual farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops, trees, and raising livestock. Since its launch in June 2009, FarmVille has become the most popular game application on Facebook, with over 75.2 million active users and over 18.1 million fans in January 2010.
75.2 million people are on Facebook, pretending to grow vegetables and raise animals in their browser windows?
How palpably bat shit nuts is that?
Wikipedia goes on:
Like most Zynga games, FarmVille leverages the social networking aspects of Facebook. Along with their own farm, players can invite their friends to join and be neighbors. Acquiring neighbors has benefits in gameplay — not only can one earn money and experience (by visiting and helping on neighboring farms), but with eight or more neighbors, a player can expand their farm and own more acreage. Gifts (such as trees, animals, and decorations) can be sent to both confirmed neighbors and any other Facebook friends even if they do not use the application. The Gifts received from neighbors usually have relatively expensive buy prices in the market; so getting gifts from friends is one of the best ways to get relatively expensive items. Many of the items available to gift to friends are not available in the FarmVille market. This includes many themed decorations.
A variety of “Ribbons” are also available to players, representing the player’s achievement of a series of set tasks. The player first obtains a yellow ribbon for completing a simple version of the task, then progresses through white, red, and blue ribbons by completing progressively more difficult versions of the same task. For example, the “Fenced In” Yellow ribbon requires that the player purchase and display on his farm 5 sections of fence. The white ribbon for the same task requires 50 sections of fence be set up, and the red and blue ribbons get progressively harder and more expensive to complete. There are presently twenty-eight different tasks, for a total of 112 total ribbons available to be earned. In addition to bragging rights, a player earning a ribbon gets a tangible reward for his efforts, which may include a gold item, experience bonus, the award of a special item, or some other benefit.
Has it really come to this? Getting ribbons for bragging rights in Facebook games? I know. I know. Nothing new under the sun, Kevin. You’ll tell me how you spent your allowance getting high score on Defender in 1981. (Or something like that.)
It’s not the same.
I don’t know how old you were in 1981, but I was ten when I was spending my allowance getting high score on Defender. What’s the average age of the people who are playing FarmVille? I’m sure it’s much older than 10.
You might have been like me and never even heard of this FarmVille madness before today, but if we are to believe that 75.2 million people are spending any amount of time doing this…
Holy shit and sweet Jesus on a stick: What does that mean?
Has reality become such a mean and ugly bitch that tens of millions of people are searching for a functional society inside the screen? Why is a game about small scale agriculture the most popular game of all on Facebook? Do the people playing this game have access to safe, affordable, good tasting food?
If you think that FarmVille is nuts/strange/chilling, the corporate dystopia is now targeting the imaginations of very young children by using regular stuffed animals as a gateway to the machine world. Let’s look at Webkinz.
Again, from Wikipedia:
Webkinz are toy stuffed animals that were originally released by the Ganz company on April 29, 2005. The toys are similar to many other small plush toys, however, each Webkinz toy has an attached tag with a unique “Secret Code” printed on it that allows access to the “Webkinz World” website. On Webkinz World, the Secret Code allows the user to own a virtual version of the pet for online play for a limited time. To maintain long-term access to an account, the user must continue to purchase additional stuffed toys.
There are also smaller, less expensive versions of the toys called Lil’ Kinz as well as larger, slightly more expensive versions in the Signature collection launched in early 2009. In June 2008, Ganz opened the Webkinz eStore, where users can buy virtual items such as furniture, clothing, charms, and online-only pets. eStore items can only be used in conjunction with an active Webkinz or Webkinz, Jr. account.
Sales of plush Webkinz and Lil’kinz are limited to the United States and Canada, however virtual pets can be purchased from the eStore by international residents. Secret Codes issued in conjunction with virtual pets can be used the same way as Secret Codes attached to plush pets.
At this point, in Jesse Schell’s talk, I started raving like a lunatic, but I managed not to swear. (Owen, our two-year-old son, can repeat a lot of what we say at this point.) Becky asked what was the matter. I went out to tell her about Webkinz. Her face contorted in horror.
“It’s true,” I assured her. “People are handing over their money and their children’s imaginations to this company.”
Owen was sitting on his sheep skin pelt, next to the book shelf, quietly looking through The Tale of Mr. Tod. When he heard his mother and me talking about screens, he immediately and forcefully started interrupting us.
“Dell booper! Dell booper! More Dell booper!” Nodding his head, yes, yes.
Months ago, I noticed that he wouldn’t just sit on my knee and enjoy a few minutes of looking at pictures of family members, creatures and various machines on the screen. No way, man. He wanted to pull the whole thing apart. Turn it off and on fifty or a hundred times. Right clicking reliably brought up menus on the screen. The Windows button never got old either.
I thought, “Wow, he’s really into this, I suppose it’s ok.” But there was no off switch for this. When it was time to do something else, back arching, screaming and tears resulted. And when we were doing other things, he’d want the booper.
We’ve stopped all screen access with him. It has been several months since he has had any time at all with a screen, and even now, just mentioning it sets him off.
I went to the Webkinz site and pretty much recoiled in horror. That thing must be like a crackpipe x10,000 to a young child. I wonder if there is potential for harm by allowing young children to mess around with this hi-tech crack? If they aren’t having to use their imaginations to create the play, and, instead, rely on interactions with the machine, what are the long term implications of that?
Owen carries his stuffed animals around and pretends to feed them and give them water. He asks for us to read books to him and he’ll select a creature to cuddle and hold it so it can “see” the book too. (Slack Jack Bunny and Gruffalo are his favorites.) When he was about a year old and breast feeding, he held up Slack Jack Bunny to Becky’s breast and she held it there and pretended to feed it. Owen cackled. He thought that was absolutely hilarious. Anyway, on and on. I know it’s boring to read about other people’s kids, but the point is that he didn’t need any [expletive deleted] Webkinz service to come up with all of this.
I just picked two of several disturbing aspects of Jesse Schell’s talk, and I didn’t even get to the last several minutes of holy rolling, speaking in tongues, snake handling madness. The part about the soda cans with screens.
I’m not a Luddite. I started using computers when I was eight. I earned a living in corporate IT. I’m using a computer at this very moment. But the reality Schell is describing in the last part of his talk sounds unthinkably grim to me.
“Come on,” I mumbled to myself, as Schell unfurled toward the end, “Who is going to tolerate all of that nonsense?”
Oh, wait. How many FarmVille players are there again?
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