I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday (on MSN,  ironically – virtual talking) about virtual farming. We were joking back and forth about people who spend so much time working on these virtual farms, planting virtual crops, waiting for them to virtually mature, “buying” virtual decorations for their virtual environment, and feeding virtual animals.

What is it about virtual farming that keeps you hooked? You feel compelled to finish harvesting your entire crop before it withers, and then have to replant in the field – to maximize your growing time, of course!  Once you’re done this three-step process (a hundred or more times over, one for each plot that can be planted on), you have to make sure you harvest all the trees on your farm. After that, don’t forget to feed your animals, and make sure they are properly fenced in. Then you notice that someone has left you a gift! You open your gift box to reveal several gifts and decorations you can use around your farm. Once you have placed and used these gifts, you notice that there is a blank spot on your farm, and start building a new barn, or perhaps a chicken coop. For that you need items from friends – so you make a few requests for items. Lastly, you realize how bare your cabin looks, and plant some flowers around the front, place a bench in the yard, and decorate with a nice topiary. Ah! Your work is done – time to get something done in the real world… but wait! your crops are ready to harvest!

What is the cost of spending time in this virtual world?

Imagine you are sitting in the living room waiting patiently to put on a movie as your friend or sibling or mom is busy farming. “Can’t you do that later? I’m ready to watch the movie” you grumble. “Just a few more crops and I’ll be right there.” Forty-five minutes later, you are probably frustrated enough to start the movie without them, and have finished eating all the popcorn.  It is here that the seed of resentment is planted (pun intended).

As I was chatting with my friend – I joked about the virtual animals, and how it’s difficult to leave without feeding them because you feel guilty starving these poor virtual animals. I imagined the following scenario: a husband walks into the living room, where he sees his wife on the computer, feeding her virtual animals “Honey, have you fed the cat?” he asks. “Hold on,” she replies “I just have to finish feeding the pigs and then plant some crops.” No doubt that virtual animals have taken precedence over real ones on many an occasion! What about YOUR cat? What about the real tasks we have to accomplish in life? Why are we SO motivated in farm-land, but not in real life?

Another issue we raised in our chat was: what if you are a closet farmer yourself? You can’t admit it to friends and family, because you have already made your stance on virtual farming known, and admitting your dirty secret would only be followed by the unbearable ridicule of your fellow farmers. SHAME!!! Have you ever wondered how many people out there have anonymous accounts and are playing alongside friends and family – unbeknown to them? I guarantee you this is happening somewhere in the world of virtual farming!

Needless to say, I fall into this virtual farming category myself. I like to take a break from work or spend fifteen minutes or so when I get home making sure that my virtual farm is running smoothly. Several times, I have left my farm for days, weeks, even a month or more… but eventually I do come back and restore order. I plant new crops, feed my animals, check the coop for eggs, and go apple-picking. I realize that this is a “virtual” waste of my time… but it’s definitely fun.

How do we translate this motivation into real life? It’s virtually the same thing! If I pop in this load of laundry now, it’ll be done in 45 minutes. That means I can feed the cat, tend to the garden, and have just enough time to fix up the decorations on the house. Once that’s done, I can put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load of wash. Is it less enticing because we don’t earn virtual farm bucks when we finish a load of laundry??

Food for thought 😉