FarmVille is one of the most frustrating megatrends on the Internet today. 60 million people log a mind-boggling 70 million hours each week (or almost 8,000 years) tending to their virtual crops. What could be a massive teaching opportunity — FarmVille commands a huge captive audience of people who are have at least a cursory interest in how their food is produced — is wasted on unrealistic, glorified fantasy farming.
As I’ve written before, FarmVille “helps perpetuate the idyllic farm myth, skirting around issues and concerns associated with the modern large scale (factory) farm — seeds grow into crops practically overnight, large quantities of fertilizer are used with no regard to environmental impact, there are many farm animals but no slaughterhouses, or battery cages, or antibiotics and growth hormones.” Yes, it’s just a game, but one that could be covertly teaching a generation more about where their food comes from and what goes into creating it.
Social media blog Mashable today put out an infographic pitting FarmVille’s virtual farmers against the world’s real ones. Some stats stand out that show the disconnect between the fantasy of where our food comes from, and the reality. The average FarmVille player is a middle-aged, middle-class woman, while the average real-world farmer is an older man who makes about $15,000 less per year than his virtual farming counterparts. In fact, FarmVille’s online population is apparently 60% female, while just 13% of actual farms are operated by women.
500 million virtual acres have already been “farmed” in FarmVille — or more than half of the total actual farmland left in the US. And what are they farming? Strawberries are the top crop. Corn and sugar cane — the most often farmed real-world crops — don’t even make it to the FarmVille top ten. Why are strawberries so popular? Probably because they are, inexplicably, the cheapest fruit in the game with the quickest time to harvest.
The most telling statistic revealed in the infographic, however, is that there are just 2 million farmers in the United States. Meaning that FarmVille’s virtual farmers outnumber real farmers by a ratio of 30 to 1. Most of those millions of Internet farmers are kept blissfully unaware of what really goes into food production.