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Facebook's FarmVille lets you trick out your page with cows, tractors and manure
Facebook's FarmVille lets you trick out your page with cows, tractors and manure

Old MacDonald's virtual farm Add to ...

J amie Lynn found a lonely black sheep on her farm. Marcia got an apple tree from Charmaine. Tiffany bought a harvester.

Accompanied by plump, bug-eyed farm animals, agriculturally obsessed status updates have been inundating the Facebook walls of the young and old this August.

Three of the site's top 15 fastest-growing applications are now farming related: FarmVille, Farm Town and (Lil) Farm Life.

The sites allow users to grow and harvest their own crops, customize their farms with scarecrows, streams and hedges, and send gifts, like wheat and hogs, to their friends.

FarmVille doubled its active users from 16 million at the beginning of August to more than 32 million by the end of the month. Farm Town boasted nearly 19 million users and 1,100,000 fans, from Pakistan to Hoboken, N.J.

For some, the appeal has to do with rural nostalgia. For others, it's just another time waster gone viral.

Petra Wilson has elaborate farms on all three sites.

"I'm a FarmVille junkie," said the 45-year-old Ajax, Ont., woman.

Her avatar, a green-mohawked sprite in purple overalls, is visible among neat rows of ducks, cows and eggplant shrubs. She grew grapes this week and harvested them - by clicking on the bunches.





I have a friend who's very messy and her crops are destroyed and she hasn't moved up in any level. She neglected her farm. One of my friends is very neat and organized and all of her animals are organized in such a way 23-year-old graphic designer Jakki Chrysler who joined FarmVille last month




Ms. Wilson said she has grown attached to the game because it reminds her of life on a farm as a teenager.

"I'm an old farm girl," she said. "We had chickens, cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, bugs - everything."

Ms. Wilson, who has diabetes and a brain tumour in remission, said the applications are "a calmer." "Instead of sitting in front of the TV and staring at nothing, at least I'm using my mind."

Users advance through the games by harvesting and selling crops, helping their virtual neighbours and inviting friends to join. On FarmVille and Farm Town, they can also trick out their farms with items bought via PayPal. Scarecrows and outhouses are "hot items" said Ms. Wilson, who's now after a Canadian flag.

Besides crows, leaves and weeds, nothing calamitous happens in the virtual farm worlds: there are no seasons, droughts, mad cow or swine flu.

For many users, the wholesome application appeals because it feeds two time-honoured workplace traditions: procrastination and competition.

Jakki Chrysler, a 23-year-old graphic designer from Oakville, Ont., joined FarmVille last month after co-workers invited her to compete for best farm.

One month in, Ms. Chrysler isn't bored with the rudimentary game. Like real-life farming, the site is demanding of users' time.

"You have to be on Facebook a lot to use this. Some of the crops grow in two hours," said Ms. Chrysler, who just got a tractor to plow her pig manure.

She compares the application to Tamagotchi and The Sims, where users "kind of play god." She thinks the last application that captivated this way was YoVille, which let users customize lavish apartments for their avatars.

People's farms mirror their own domestic habits, Ms. Chrysler said.

"I have a friend who's very messy and her crops are destroyed and she hasn't moved up in any level. She neglected her farm. One of my friends is very neat and organized and all of her animals are organized in such a way."

Neither Ms. Chrysler nor any of her friends grew up on farms, which might explain why they pen their chickens in with their cows, something Ms. Wilson tut-tuted.

"When I do my farm, there's no way I would have these animals with these animals: Pigs eat the chickens."

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