Monday, May 24, 2010

Wasting time & money on the Happy Farm

To western users of Facebook, the online game Farmville will be quite familiar. The game in which players build up a virtual farm has become increasingly popular. In China too there is growing number of Internet users becoming addicted to its version of the game. Called Happy Farm, there are millions of Chinese players immersed in watering virtual plots, growing virtual crops and stealing virtual vegetables.

There are are wide number of reasons put forward as to why so many have been drawn in by this farming game. Most people playing live in the cities. Their roots once lay in the country and some have likened it as an attempt to recreate their past. Some have disparagingly said that while one can take the peasant out the farm you can't take the farm out of the peasant. Players themselves talk of escapism but others say it's like real-life. "It's a way to experience life," one man told state-run media recently [Newsweek]. 

Happy Farm arrived in China in 2008 and now some 80 million people play the game daily. This number accounts for around 20% of the country's Internet population. And some are definitely spending just a little too much time in this virtual landscape.  According to Global Times, the English Language daily here in Beijing, there are more than 15 million urban Chinese who spend more than five hours a day on their happy farm. There is increasing concern that such addiction can lead to more than a few social problems. There is loss of production. In offices around the city there will be thousands of hours wasted daily on Happy Farm. But such addiction can follow these white collar workers home. And it has even led to divorce after husbands or their wives spend so much time growing virtual crops they neglect to nurture their marriage [Techcrunch / Telegraph / China Smack]. 

The game, which is free, is played across social networking sites like Facebook or their Chinese equivalents such as or which means that virtual farmers can visit each other's farms, trade livestock and generally admire each other's handiwork. But players can also use real cash to buy virtual goodies, everything from special tools to windmills, exotic animals to better seeds. And just as westerners have been drawn into the game and parted with large sums of money, many Asians have too. In Taiwan one man recently accused Facebook of deceiving him into spending nearly $100 on his virtual farm [Asia One].

While some are happy to live in a virtual world, others are even prepared to spend money to turn that virtual world into reality. Mr. Liu, a white-collar worker who lives in the Pudong district with his family, rents a piece of farmland in the suburbs for a 3, 000 RMB [$439] membership fee. Every weekend the whole family drives to their actual 'happy farm' to water, weed and fertilize real crops. At least at harvest season they have something to show for their time spent on their farm as they bring home vegetables they have grown [People's Daily]. Many may be content to waste their time in happy farm but few will have little to show for their indulgence. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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