Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Farmtown, and Final Words (in general)

The "in general" is to indicate I just want to talk about the concept of final words, as opposed to having a need for any at present, which I do not.

A couple years ago, Stacey and I took a trip down to North Carolina to visit family, and we brought along an audiobook of "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy", which is a fictionalization of a real event, Norman Mailer-esque.  The event that was chronicled was the oppression and removal of a community of descendants ex-slaves from a small colony in New England by evil and smug puritans, sure of the righteousness of their crimes.  It was a young-adult book, won the Newberry award, and is told from the point of view of a pastor's son.  Good book, we both enjoyed it, and it made the 8 hour drive go a lot quicker.

One of the topics that comes up in the book is one's last words.  An ailing, older village matriarch is obsessed about saying something memorable on her deathbed so that the town will remember her as a wisened saint instead of the crutchety old bag she was in everyday life.  She arranges for the lead characters to do housework for her, and when she believes she is about to die, she says her last, beautiful, moving words... but does not die, and awakens to hear the lead characters debating which word was used in a particular phrase as they're trying to write it down.  She scolds them, complains that now she has to think of something new, and then says:

"Oh hell, it's warm here.  Get me a ginger ale."

...and then dies.  Funniest stuff ever.  High comedy, a blunt look at another white-man's hubris induced abomination in history, and a fine read, even if the target audience is middle school kids.  In fact, I've enjoyed many of the "Young Adult" audiobooks at the library, maybe because I don't hold them to as high a standard.  Like going to see a campy action movie: you anticipate mindless stupidity, and if fact put your brain in park before sitting down with your popcorn, but are sometimes pleasantly surprised at the intelligence or subtlety of the movie.  For every few "Tango and Cash" types there's at least one "The Bourne Identity" to make up for it.

Another audiobook I just finished (actually by Norman Mailer this time) is "The Castle in the Forest".  It chronicles the early childhood of Adolf Hitler, his siblings, parents, and the communities they lived in.  Fan-freakin-tastic!  It is sometimes deliberately dull and plodding, and sometimes you are moved by the characters, but are more often shown that they are monsters, ignorant, or both.  I loved it.

One of the themes of the book was to put Hitler into as humiliating and perverse a situation as possible.  The setup for the humiliation is complex and lengthy, so I will only try to summarize with the punchline:  Hitler trying to escape being punished by his dad by attempting to slip through barred windows at night in the dead of winter, naked.  Upon hearing dad coming down the hall, he jumps back in the room and throws a sheet over himself, and is then laughed at by dad, and referred to from then on by him as "toga boy".  We are shown before then to have a low opinion of dad, who is thick-headed, fancies himself highbrow, but isn't, and to take many laughable things far too seriously.  To have him laugh at Adolf in those circumstances is macabre and brilliant.  Go Norman!

The dad, Alois, has struggled to be more than the 19th century's version of middle management, learning a few Latin phrases, joining a club for gentlemen, trying and failing at beekeeping.  Ultimately he is too earthy for the gentlemen, and too snobbish for the pub-goers.  He dies isolated, having accomplished nothing of value, and worried about the future of his family.  And in a vain attempt to be classy despite it all, he mutters to no one in particular as he feels the end coming:

"Acta est fabula, plaudite!"

...which are the supposed last words of Augustus, roughly translated as "The play is over, applaud!"

Interesting read, that.  It takes a lot of stamina to get through, even the audiobook version that I listened to on the way to work for a couple weeks.  Lizzie Bright, on the other hand, is much easier on you and more fun.  But you should still read them both.

OK, "Farmtown".

This is a Facebook application that is a MMORPG/Sim hybrid.  You basically run a farm by plowing, buying seed, planting, harvesting, and selling at market.  You also can buy and sell animals, put up fences, wells, bales of hay, etc. that have no function other than decoration, plant fruit trees.  You can hire people to work on your farm, which gives them money out of the ether for working someone else's farm, and magically makes your crops sell for more at market.  Amazingly bad economics, but very fun.

The MMORPG aspect is basically that you can meet other players on your farm, at the market, in other buildings (the pub, the realtor), and everyone walks around together via avatars, and their chatting appears both as speach balloons over their heads and in a text window below.  You can have neighbors that are your Facebook friends, and "tend" their farms, which involves imagined windstorms that require raking, or sunny days that require watering, both giving you a token few gold pieces and experience points.

At the marketplace, a curious phenomenon happens:  People overwhelm the chat window with pleading requests to be hired to harvest.  "Any jobs going?", "hire plz", "Looking for a job, I need to buy a [whatever]" are some of the common phrases that litter the marketplace rooms all the time.  Some people offer to trade work for work (Liberty and I do this with each other, and also involve our in-game neighbors whenever appropriate), some scam each other, like having multiple accounts, one to empty a market room of competition by hiring to an empty farm while the other then announces that he's looking for work.  It's a strange economy of negotiation, begging, complaints, lies, backstories.

I hang out in the marketplace when I'm waiting for my crops to come in and I'm bored.  I don't need to be there, but I have found out a few interesting psychological tips that would apply to other "games" such as dating, job interviews, and being cool at parties.

- Disinterest is interesting to the buyer.
- With an equally interesting female and male seller and a male buyer, the buyer will buy from the female.
- Female buyers respond positively to comedy, negatively to sarcasm.
- All buyers respond favorably to smalltalk of commonality.  Why American Idol is the devil, what in-game animals look the cutest, "You're from Kentucky, oh, I'm your neighbor to the north", what beer do you drink when you play the game, things in that vein.
- Uniqueness that isn't challenging or scary gets fast responses... foreign languages, showing insight or intelligence *without seeming smug*, and giving out game tips (what to click to make the game run faster or how to prevent being booted from an overloaded server), these all get me hired the quickest.  As an example, I popped into a room a couple days ago and said simply "Beunos tardes, amigos." and was immediately hired by someone.

I find that when I go into a room and just chat like it's an IRC channel, I'll get hired 50% of the time pretty quickly.  Sometimes a room is overloaded with fools shouting about being hired, sometimes the conversation is dull and what I have to say registers more pompous, in those cases I either sit longer waiting for someone to hire me, or I bail and go to another market room.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've seen the game grow, and I've seen people's behavior in the rooms change.  It's interesting, and it reminds me of some of the comments I've seen about other online games like Warcraft, City of Heroes, and the like.  This one is superior, though, as it is free, is honest about being fanciful, acknowledging its own bad economics, and caricaturing the avatars and animals, and gives lots of psychological data to me that my reclusiveness would prevent me from obtaining otherwise.

And I can quit any time I want.  Honest.


  1. Do you own this Hitler book, or was it a library book? Just wondering. My current epic fantasy series is winding down, and after I steal back the Stephen King Zoe is reading, I will need something new. I have also never considered books on tape for long car rides with the kids. Fantastic idea. I am tempted to try your farm game, but am sucked in far too easily.

  2. The Hitler book was a library book. Not in high demand, as far as I could tell. Don't play it in the car with your kids, though, it will alternate between boring them to death and shocking them with some adult themed wildness.

    ..Plaaayyy FaaarmmTown!!!! Plaaaayyy it!

  3. How do you make farm town run faster?