Young India ditches jobs and sleep to tend to farms

Published: Oct 05, 2009, 10:40 IST | Aditi Sharma |

A new virtual game has got young indians hooked to ploughing, sowing and harvesting fields in the middle of the night, rearranging weekend getaway plans, and worrying about crops wilting while they are trying to crack that contract at work

A new virtual game has got young indians hooked to ploughing, sowing and harvesting fields in the middle of the night, rearranging weekend getaway plans, and worrying about crops wilting while they are trying to crack that contract at work

Farmville, a virtual farming game, has got urban Indians who are on Facebook, ploughing, sowing and harvesting in the middle of the night, rearranging their pretty farms all weekend, and worrying about crops wilting while trying to complete professional assignments.

Farmville regulars swear it's an addiction. Urban professionals are so captivated by their virtual farms, all they do is plan how to get more farm coins (aka XP) and collect as many ribbons as possible. Choosing to have a windmill on their farm or not, becomes a do-or-die decision.

All it takes is a simple invite to become a neighbour on Farmville. You start with a couple of patches of ploughed field and eggplant and strawberry crops. The easy-to-get (relatively) gifts and points get you into the game, and you think, "Hey, this is a great de-stresser!" But regulars swear it's an addiction that gradually claws you in. Soon, you are so captivated by your virtual farm that all you do is plan how to get more farm coins or experience (aka XP), or collect as many ribbons as possible. Choosing to have a windmill on your farm or not, becomes a do-or-die decision. And not being gifted baby elephants (the most coveted free gift on the game) can turn you green with jealousy.

The game is only in its beta version, which means that it's still under development, but it has already got purebred professionals threatening to commit "Farmville suicide" because some of the changes they made to their farm, haven't been saved. FYI chatted up some hardcore farmers to find out what's getting them hooked.

Stress buster between fashion shows
Model Candice Pinto was spotted at the recently held Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai, scrambling to the media center from where fashion journalists were flying off copies to their respective publications, to log on and tend to her fields. "Ya, I've been on Farmville for a while now. It's a great de-stresser in between a hectic work schedule. I log on for about half an hour before I go to bed. That's enough time to plough and harvest. I can't afford to devote any more time. The more you tend to your farm, the bigger it gets, and then it's unmanageable. It's a fad, it'll die. But for now, I'm hooked," she laughs.

It's a great de-stresser in between a hectic work schedule. I log on for about half an hour before I go to bed. It's a fad, it'll die. But for now, I'm hooked.
Candice Pinto, model

He plans his week around it
Farmers on Farmville will tell you how the game helps them chart out their entire day, or sometimes week. Each crop takes a specific period to harvest. Farmers plan their schedule around it so that they are free from office work at the time that their crop is likely to be ready to harvest. Viraj Gawas, a freelance production executive, was caught in a dilemma when he had to travel to Sri Lanka for an advertisement shoot. It meant that he would have to leave his farm unattended for a whole week. "But I sat down and planned it all out. I decided to sow artichokes since they take 4 days to ripen and I'd have another four days to harvest them," says Viraj, one of the most prolific farmers on his Farmville friend list. 
She sets an alarm to plough 
Actress Manava Naik set an alarm for 2.30 am, woke up, harvested her farm, ploughed the field, sowed a new crop before going back to sleep. All this, because she wanted to make some extra money quickly. She decided to sow crops that would grow soon and once harvested, give her the money she needed to buy new decorations for her farm. "I set an alarm for 2.30 am to harvest my crops. But that was when I was new to the game. I thought I had to harvest my crops as soon as they were ripe," says a now experienced Manava, who has reached level 28 in less than a month.

She adopts orphan farms
Diehard farmers who won't let a single crop wilt, have taken to exchanging passwords and letting friends "adopt" their farms when they are caught up. "The last thing you want to do is give your Facebook password to your husband. But I've done that for Farmville. There are times when the crop has to be harvested and I can't access a computer. That's when my husband helps me out on my farm. I'd do that for him too," says Vishakha Gokhale, music manager at a radio station. Vishakha calls herself a "caretaker of farms" because she has a whole list of friends who have revealed their passwords to her so she can maintain them.

She was traumatised by wilted crops
And when a farmer tends to his farm with so much love, a setback can be traumatic. For a virtual farmer, the thought of wilting crops is terrifying. The recent thunderstorm that Mumbai experienced, played havoc with fashion designer Bhavna Sadhwani's farm. "My net connection was off at home. When I realised that my farm would be in ruins, I was pretty depressed. It felt pathetic that all that hard work would go in vain. But a few days later, my brother helped me salvage what he could."

Bhavna also learnt a crucial lesson. She was earlier into quick farming, and planted quick-growing crops. "Now, a part of my farm has fast-growing crops while the rest has those that take three to four days to grow, so in an emergency, you are cool," she explains.
He attempted suicide on Farmville
Farmville is being developed by Zynga, a US-based video game developer. The game is still in its primary stage, and farmers are left with having to face hiccups on a daily basis. One such error could've been the cause for the first-ever farmer suicide on Farmville. Mandar Karande, an architect addicted to the game from day one, had spent hours tending to his labour of love. In fact, he takes pride in the fact that when he goes to the market to buy seeds, trees, animals or farm decorations, he keeps a calculator handy to let him decide which product will be most profitable. But it was this very passion that led to a heartbreak one day. "I had reached level 17, and got access to some new decorations. I sat down and re-arranged my entire farm that night. But there must've been some technical error, and when I woke up, I saw that the changes hadn't registered. I was back on level 16. I was so disheartened, I decided to just let my farm wilt away," he shrugs. His neighbours received a prompt message informing them of his imminent "suicide". But deep restrospection helped him get over the ordeal, and he was back on his farm within a day. Right now, he is on level 21.

Real-life farmer Vs Virtual farmer
Journalist Amol Parchure is passionate about his virtual farm. But a recent trip around the state while he was covering the run-up to the elections, brought him face-to-face with the stark situation in the interiors of Maharashtra. "I spotted a few orange trees just before we entered Nagpur, and I connected that image to the orange trees on my farm. The reporter accompanying me told me that the local farmers were facing problems.

The irony of the situation struck me. In Farmville, if you have a lot of experience, you also earn a lot of points. But India's farmers have years of experience but hardly any money."

It's a clean and happy thrill, says shrink Varkha Chulani, psychologist
Since the farm is something you have nurtured, you experience a feeling of achievement and satisfaction when you see your investment reaping fruits. The game sets off a healthy interaction between people. I don't see it as unhealthy as long as gamers realise it's a game. If you begin to lose sleep over it, you have something to worry about. At the end of the day, a game provides a thrill, which all of us need.

'Farmville is piggy backing on Facebook's addiction' Quentin Staes-Polet, CEO and Founder, Kreeda Games
Farmville is, what we in the gaming industry call, a casual game. It has a well-designed yet simple user interface. The players get a lot of rewards and that keeps them hooked and coming back for more. The instant gratification helps the game get a wider audience. It belongs to the group of games that let you have a virtual identity. You can experience extreme emotions without any risks. It is piggy backing on Facebook's addiction, so it has a set revenue model too.

Other online games to top popularity charts

Ultima Online
No. of players: 10,000,000 worldwide

Ultima Online is a fantasy role-playing game set in the Ultima universe. Players pay a monthly fee to play the game. It is known for its extensive timing-based player versus player combat system. To maintain order in the online community, there are Game Masters who resolve player disputes, police the shard (game servers) for terms of service violations, and correct glitches in the game.

No. of players: 9,500,000 worldwide

Lineage is a medieval, fantasy, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in 1998 by the South Korean computer game developer NCsoft. The game play is based on a castle siege system that allows castle owners to set tax rates in neighbouring cities and collect taxes. By joining a "bloodpledge" (an association of players), players become eligible to engage in castle sieges or wars between bloodpledges.

No. of players: nearly 1,500,000 worldwide

Runescape is a fantasy MMORPG that takes place in the game world of Gielinor, a realm divided into several different kingdoms, regions, and cities. Players can travel throughout Gielinor on foot, by using magical teleportation spells and devices, or by using mechanical means of transportation. RuneScape does not follow a linear storyline; players set their own goals and objectives.

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