FARMVILLE: STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF PARTICIPATION
The present post is an analysis of the videogame FarmVille in relation to the elements by which participation is organized proposed by Hamlet Murray. FarmVille is a simulation videogame distributed via social networks in which the character uses “Farm Coins” to build up a farm from scratch. The gamers’ ability increases as he/she gathers items to produce an income such as animals or plants for the harvest time. One could earn “Farm money” and experience from visiting “neighbors”, who happen to be one’s facebook friends. These “Farm Cash” can also be obtained through real transactions. Both, the interaction with real friends and the connection with real banking transactions problematize the immersion of the gamer.
Visit is considered by the author as the “simplest ways” (Murray 1997) to achieve multisensory immersion. One could assess this category in the environment of a farm and the accessories that connotatively are involved in a plantation. Often the green square that frames the plantation where the narration takes place marks the boundaries of such illusionary world. The unexplored areas with not plants or animals could be seen as either an obstacle for the gamer to have supreme knowledge of the game or as a limit for him to tell the boundaries of the game space.
This stage of participation often overlaps with the creation of belief. The experience of being in an interactive place (farm) is reinforced as a “habitable world” under the social principles of facebook (the platform in which the videogame is mostly played). They encourage actions like visiting neighbors. Such actions that are constantly performed in the real world and then reflected to the virtual narrow down the amount of creativity of the gamer. Likewise, this possibility to interact with others leads the gamers’ mind to create a personalized schema to understand the farm based on his daily life behavior. Among the most common cases, one could notice how the gamer establishes a close relationship with the animals, as the gamer would do in real life with his/her pets. Also, sooner or later the gamer has the impression that he/she is running his own business when the products start to be sold.
The mask is perhaps the richest element of analysis in FarmVille. This is due to the fact that each farm represents the personality of the gamer. The gamer acts through an avatar, which experiences a feeling of belongingness produced by the large audience that plays via facebook. Therefore, the decoration, the elements with which the avatar is characterized and the movements that the gamer uses to operate it (where to plant what), express the gamer participation. Eventually, the ecosystem created by the gamer seems to come to life.
In terms of the role or the “theatrical illusion” (Murray 1997) of the videogame, this is hardly measurable as the narration involves the participation of the gamer in a community of video farmers (facebook profiles) to which only have access other gamers under the same conditions. The gamer is to play both the life of the avatar and his/her role as a friend in a social network. This breaks down the borders between reality and virtuality. With regard to external interruptions that could shape the gamers’ role, one must take into account that Farmville is played through a social network with private profiles and this fact limits access/participation to someone that is not the owner of one, therefore, who is not a virtual farmer.
Finally and with regard to the arousal, a sense of mental confusion can be produced by the limitations on the budget, similarly there is elements of emotional discomfort as the game demands the competition against friends in the same platform in which gamers discuss friendship matters. However, these conditions are under control thanks to the flexibility of the narration: the videogame can be easily adapted to any personality (desire) and the producers itself (Zynga) also provide items to balance the monotony (low levels of arousal), like short versions of FarmVille avatars dancing “Gangnam style” (see the picture below).
Murray, J.H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Free Press, pp. 97-153.