Crop-stealing on Happy Farm: an addiction to affiliation

By Maverick Chen
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, December 10, 2009
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"I play Happy Farm only to get myself up-to-date with what's new out there," Kenshi points out. "The game also enables a fresh way of communicating with my friends and it's very interesting." Kenshi says the game reminds her of her own real-life farming experience in the countryside more than three decades ago. "Real farming in the fields is like this. You keep an eye on your crops each day, and have to care for them constantly, like watering and fertilizing them."

Kenshi didn't start playing the game to steal others' vegetables. She wanted to see how realistic the virtual farming process was. However, within just three months, Kenshi is playing at level 38, direct evidence of her toil on the farm day-in and day-out.

"If you are a higher level player, you can grow more valuable plants, such as ginseng," she says, explaining the game. "Now I am legible to grow saffron and raise giraffes, while entry-level players can only grow carrots and such."

Along with her fulfilment of rediscovering the "good old life" came the game's invisible shackles. Setting her alarm clock at two or four in the morning is certainly not in the game's guidelines. "I am seriously thinking about quitting the game. It's no longer relaxing, it's a burden. However, thinking of the efforts I've made and the time spent, including staying up late into the wee hours of the night, I suddenly realize abandoning the game would be too difficult," she admits. Her thoughts could be a common dilemma haunting many farm thieves by now.

Collective solitude

The prevalence of Happy Farm reflects people's desire to get connected with others. When pressing job assignments deprive people of their spare time that might be spent socializing, SNS present an efficient way of communicating. Professor Yu Guoming at Renmin University of China believes it reflects social diversity with more tolerance than ever before.

Pointing out the SNS addition, Yu reiterates that online networking is not too different from networking in the real world. SNS games are required to have anti-addiction operations, such as shutting the server down in the middle of the night or limiting the number of logins for each day.

Urban white-collar workers are oftentimes haunted by the ugly realities of society, such as soaring housing prices or greed for material wealth. These have developed into a so-called "collective solitude." Happy Farm encourages, or at least doesn't forbid, stealing. Providing what Edmund Freud would describe as a perfect outlet to satisfy the "wicked id desire," the game is perhaps a subtle way white-collar workers choose to discharge their dissatisfaction with social reality.

In addition to releasing daily stress, Happy Farm also employs what is called the "herd mentality," in that a newcomer joins the game not because of how interesting it is, but because everyone else is doing it. "Otherwise you become obsolete and therefore overwhelmed," said an anonymous office clerk, "though it is indeed fun to do it with others."

"We are not stealing the vegetables, but showing our solitude." This sentence has quickly become one of the most popular slogans on the Web. Dr. Yang Min at the Beijing Airport Hospital confirms that Happy Farm "is a complement to the alienated inter-personal relationship of white-collar workers under excessive stress and anxiety." And the necessity to get connected, as Dr. Yang points out, "is what makes people addicted."

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