Friday, September 16, 2011

Facebook Games Anyone?

There are two kinds of Facebook users: Those who play online Facebook games, and those who not only don't play them, but can't even understand why anyone would play them.

There are several subcategories of game players.  Some will play certain games but not others.  Some may try a game or two before deciding it's a waste of time.  All the while those who avoid Facebook games like a bad cliche, just don't get it.  What is the appeal?

I'm here to say I get the appeal.  It's frightening how games can suck certain types of people in.  I don't even consider myself a die-hard gamer.  There are players who will spend actual money for virtual possessions.  I'm not that bad and never was, but I still know what it's like to have a little bit of an obsession.

It started with Farmville.  I'm surprised I even bothered to open one of the many invitations I received to play Farmville.  I just decided one day that if so many of my friends were playing it, then it must be fun.  I should check it out and see what I was missing. 

I started the game.  I was given a small patch of land, enough money to buy a couple of cheap crops, and a cartoon farmer that I could customize to look somewhat like me.  I planted my first crop. 

The next day I went back to my "farm" and saw a bunch of withered crops.  I hadn't harvested them soon enough.  Every crop takes a certain amount of time to grow to maturity.  Once the crop is grown, you have double that amount of time to harvest it.  For example, my first crop was strawberries.  They take two hours to grow, then I have four hours to harvest them.  If I don't harvest them within that window of time, they die. By coming back the next day, I lost the cash on the crop.

I learned my lesson and harvested my next set up crops in time.  Now I had some extra cash.  I began to buy some farm accessories.  After all, my farmer was living on just a patch of land without so much as a chair to sit on.  Wouldn't she like a shade tent? 

Friends began gifting me with animals and trees.  Soon I was buying fencing to keep the animals corralled (not that they ever went anywhere).  I decided I wanted to save up my coins to buy a barn for all of my horses.  Next, I focused on a cottage, because my farmer needed a place to live.  I have always wanted a farm house in real life, so my goal become to achieve enough levels and virtual money to buy one.

I can only compare this process to having a dollhouse as a kid.  I loved decorating my dollhouse and creating a virtual world for my dolls.  I was doing the same thing online, except I was doing things I never did as a kid like earn money and plan and set up a budget for these objects.  I had created a virtual world of my own choosing.  For example, I had been gifted with several citrus trees, so I put them all in one corner of the farm with a duck pond and a picnic table.  "Citrus Grove" was my farm's official park and picnic area.  When I had enough money and points to buy my farmhouse, I surrounded it with lush flower gardens.

When I had a dollhouse, I could go in and play with it once it was decorated.  My dolls could enter it.  I could expand my fantasies. My friends could play with me.  My farm had no such luxury.  I couldn't go inside my farmhouse and decorate it.  I bought a barn for my herd of horses, but they didn't go inside that barn.  They sat outside in the corral I created for them out of fencing.  Nothing in the farm was truly functional except for a dairy barn and chicken coop that would harvest the milk and eggs from all of your cows and chickens at the same time. 

If you were willing to invest real money you could purchase a fruit and vegetable stand and some amusement park rides, but no one actually came and ride them.  You couldn't invite your friends over to pay for the attractions you put on your property.  Unlike virtual reality games like Rollercoaster Tycoon where virtual guests pay money and give feedback, there is no option like that in Farmville.  Your goal is to buy seeds, plant crops, and then harvest them before they wither.  Your friends can visit your farm and clean up or fertilize to earn coins for themselves, but they can't interact with you on the farm.

After a while the game became tedious.  The process of playing Farmville consisted of clicking the mouse a dozen times to plant, then another dozen to harvest.  The larger your farm, the more crops you had and thus the more you wasted time going clickclickclickclickclickclickclick.  I had purchased everything I thought I wanted for my virtual world that I wouldn't have to pay real money for.  The game had grown old and dull.  One day I harvested every last crop and every last tree and sold every building, animal, and piece of equipment on my farm.  Then I blocked the application.  I was through with Farmville.  It was fun while it lasted, but it really wasn't doing much to enrich my life. 

I tried Cafe World for a little while.  I couldn't resist a game that was food oriented and the game is slightly more interactive than Farmville.  Virtual customers come into your restaurant and you can lose points if they aren't seated and fed.  I also had some fun decorating my restaurant.  Again, it was like a dollhouse for adults. 

Cafe World really stressed me out in the end.  In Cafe World you have to prepare food and each dish takes a certain amount of time to "cook".  If you wait too long after it's ready, it rots and turns green and flies buzz around it.  Once the dish is cooked it has to be placed on the serving table to be served to the virtual guests.  Most dishes needed to be served within a day, so there was  real need to be going back to the game far more than you should on a work day.  I stopped that one.

I ignored all of these games for quite a long time.  No cities or farms or aquariums could tempt me.

Then came Gardens of Time. 

I don't remember the reason why I decided to check out Gardens of Time. I had vowed to ignore all Facebook games, but I must have seen something on Facebook that made me give it a look.

Gardens of Time is an actual game, unlike Farmville.  I can only compare it to the kids' I Spy books or Where's Waldo?  books.  If you have a kid who owns I Spy books, I strongly recommend you hide them from me when I'm at your house because once I get my hands on one of those books, you might as well stop trying to talk to me for the next few hours.  I love those books.  I can't get enough of them.  That's why I loved Gardens of Time.  I could play online I Spy to my little heart's content.  Unlike I Spy, every time you play the same scene, the objects you are required to find are different, so there is always potentially a new challenge. 

I learned after the first few rounds that there is a catch.  There is a reason why the game is called Gardens of Time.  Players are given a patch of land that is their "garden".  It contains the time machine (each scene has a theme to a different time and place in history) and not much else. It is up to the player to "decorate" it with artifacts and buildings and all manner of flora and fauna using the virtual money you win playing the game.  I didn't want to bother with the decorating.  I just wanted to play the scenes.  Who cared about decorating some silly garden?

That's where the catch comes in.  New scenes are locked after the first "chapter" in the game.  The only way to unlock new scenes is to earn reputation points.  How do you earn reputation points?  You have to decorate your garden.

I began to decorate my garden.  At first I just threw a few things in there for points, but soon that obsession with organizing and decorating kicked in.  Soon I began designing a dream garden.  Pathways wound through flower gardens. Benches sat next to shady tress that overlooked ponds full of swans.  Statues elegantly greeted virtual guests at every corner.

The more stuff I began to accumulate, the more I really began to feel responsible for this garden.  I started organizing my garden by artifact type.  I have an Egyptian section, a Chinese section, an English section, and I'm working on an ancient Greco-Roman section.  I dream of a French section and an Italian section.  I want fountains in the garden areas and unicorns grazing among the trees. 

In order for me to collect all of this stuff I needed space.  Here is the next catch.  In order to purchase more space, you need to have a certain number of "neighbors".  It's good to have neighbors.  You can visit your neighbor's gardens and play more scenes there in the form of blitz games.  They can also give you gifts (some of which are more useful than others) and help you build some of the larger buildings in your garden.  I do not like pressuring my friends to play if they don't want to.  That choice is entirely up to them and knowing how annoyed some of them are by seeing posts about Facebook games, I am not about to start sending them invitations via the game.  I occasionally put out Facebook statuses out asking if anyone might be interested, but that's it.  Since I didn't want to bother my friends who likely didn't want to play anyway, my expansion was happening at a very slow pace.

I knew that if I really wanted to increase my reputation, I could simply just buy up as much virtual crap as I wanted and shove it all in there regardless of how it looked.  I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I really didn't want to ruin the aesthetics of my virtual world.  I wanted the garden to look a certain way.  It needed to be organized and pretty.  I found myself saying inwardly, "You need room for paths so guests can walk freely through here."

I couldn't believe I had actually thought that.  At my age do I really need such an overactive imagination?  "THERE ARE NO GUESTS," I screamed at myself a hundred times.  "If your main goal is simply to get enough reputation to unlock more scenes to play, then you shouldn't care about how your garden looks."

The logical part of me was very good about making that argument, but when I looked at the scene I had created with its meandering pathways and blooming flower gardens, I knew I could never bring myself to just start shoving stuff into my allotted garden space.  I needed to buy more space.  To get space I needed more neighbors.

There is a page on Facebook for Gardens of Time neighbor requests.  I decided to give it a try.  What did I have to lose?  I posted on the wall that I was looking for neighbors so I could have some expansion.

Did I say I wanted neighbors?  Well I got neighbors!  I have expanded my garden three times I had so many neighbors.  I probably acquired 30 new Facebook friends this week alone.  Some of these folks are real power players.  I'm at level 18.  These folks are at level 60 and beyond.  I have plenty of gardens to blitz in and I acquire gifts ten times a day.

I try to play any Facebook game as respectfully as possible.  I do not post any of my achievements on my Facebook wall.  Occasionally I'll accidentally click the mouse and post something, but I make a point to keep Gardens of Time in Gardens of Time and not to let it spill into other places in Facebook.  I try to be very respectful of my neighbors. Many of them enjoy playing, but don't want to be bothered with constant Facebook notifications.  I do not send gifts to other players unless I'm sending one in return to one sent to me.  I only ask for help from people who have asked me.  I do not send notifications that I have sent a gift.  I figure they can see what I have sent them when they play.  I don't want to clog up anyone's inbox.  I just want to play my scenes and allow others to do the same.

I'm sure I will grow tired of Gardens of Time eventually.  I'm not sure what I'll do with all of those new friends I have made.  Some of them seem like nice people and have posted stuff on my wall outside of the Gardens of Time universe.  I'd probably like to hold on to some of them.  I'll worry about it when the time comes I suppose.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go expand my garden again.

Click here for an interesting take on how people get addicted to Farmville