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“Cultivated Play: Farmville”

April 18, 2010

I don’t play Farmville; I turned down requests long ago when I realized I didn’t have enough time to play this social game. Why? Because I already spent so much time playing Call of Duty on Xbox live. This article explains something fascinating, that we democratic citizens fail to use new media to further our own interests, instead falling into an expensive do-loop of earned fantasy rewards.

The wheel keeps spinning, faster and faster. More people are signing up to play Farmville every day, as well as other similar Zynga games, such as Mafia Wars, YoVille, and Café World. Analysts estimate that, if the company goes public in the summer of 2010, Zynga will be worth between one and three billion dollars.[18] This value depends in its entirety on the social capital generated by users, like you and me, who obligate one another to play games like Farmville. Whether this strikes you as a scam or just shrewd business is beside the point. The most important thing to recognize here is that, whether we like it or not, seventy-three million people are playing Farmville: a boring, repetitive, and potentially dangerous activity that barely qualifies as a game. Seventy-three million people are obligated to a company that holds no reciprocal ethical obligation toward those people.

As cultivated citizens, we are obligated to one another. We care about one another. As Cornel West has said, democracy depends upon demophilia, or love of the people.[19] Unfortunately, sociopathic companies such as Zynga depend upon this love as well. The central task of citizenship is learning how to be good to one another, even when—especially when—it is difficult to understand our own actions. If Howard Zinn had but one lesson to teach us, it is that cultivated citizens must constantly look around and examine what they’re doing, because there is a fine line between being a cultivated citizen and being someone else’s crop.

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