Happy Farm, a game played on the Chinese social networking service (SNS) Kaixin001.com, is evolving from a pastime activity to a phenomenon. Becoming such a prevalent part of people's lives, the game has even altered the way some people greet each other. "How is your farm?" and "Did your vegetables get stolen overnight?" are now commonly heard in the office as pre-work topics of discussion.
A view of the Happy Farm
Happy Farm looks similar to Farm Town on Facebook, after which the Chinese online community host is modelled. The goal is to create a virtual farm and earn "money" from it. Players plant vegetables and other crops while milking cows or tending to sheep. Tasks such as ploughing, weeding and watering the crops regularly help to ensure a good harvest.
If farming and harvesting in due time were what the game's all about, Happy Farm might not have claimed the largest steady population of online players, which is now in the millions. But stealing – something that's prohibited in real-world situations – is a unique aspect of the game that many people find enticing.
As the rule goes, Happy Farm players are allowed to visit friends' farms and "help harvest" their crops if they failed to collect them in time, cashing in on their newly-acquired crops. "Crop-stealing," as it's called, becomes the basis of the game.
Addicted urban white-collar workers
One player, nicknamed Zhang Yuan, works at an advertisement agency. Addicted to the game, she spends multiple hours each day in managing her farm and keeping an eye on others' crops.
Shortly after being invited to play the game, Zhang found herself helplessly enthralled in the game. She has even adjusted her schedule according to the game's vegetable growth cycle. Zhang used to find it difficult to get out of bed around 8 am, but now she sets her alarm clock before 7 am so that she can log on to the site and harvest her crops that ripened overnight. She wants to harvest them before most of her farm mates have time to snatch hers. "Few people bother to log on to Kaixin before work, so I can easily steal others' expensive crops while making sure nobody gets the chance to touch mine."
After a morning round of the game, Zhang then rushes to the bus stop so that she can get a seat on the bus and continue stealing crops via her Internet-accessible mobile phone. "I can skip breakfast, but can't afford to skip stealing others' vegetables," she admits.
As the game provides people a leisurely break in between assignments, the workplace has become a major battlefield to play the game.