According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today, far fewer, at least as a percentage, than the 70-80 percent of the population that worked in agriculture in 1870. But farming is making a comeback, and it’s not just the fans of local food and organic produce who are behind the shift. It’s the internet.
About 20 percent of the total population now plays Zynga’s Farmville. In fact, Farmville’s farmers players outnumber farm-based farmers by a ratio of 80 to 1. While they don’t have any edible products like corn or tomatoes to show for their efforts, they don’t have to put in the same sweat and effort or face the same problems bad weather or failed crops that could leave them penniless. Unlike real farmers, they can easily reboot and start over.
Of course, urbanization is still winning when it comes to the city/farm divide. Cityville, the No. 1 social networking game in the country, gets 90 million hits per month, while Farmville only has 43 million.
While Zynga, the creator of these games, dilly-dallies with its IPO, it has released two new games: Empire and Allies (Cityville meets Risk) and Hanging with Friends (competitive Hangman), knowing that, more than anything, Americans want to play games. It’s fun, it’s safe, and it ultimately lacks consequences. By 2012, 68.7 million Americans will play social games. That’s about five times the number of people who are officially unemployed (13.8 million).
Virtual games have even managed to break through the gender divide. Despite the stereotype of computer gamers being lonely males living in their parents’ basements on a diet of Doritos and cold pizza, about 55 percent of social gamers are women, and 38 percent of them play multiple times a day, as opposed to just 29 percent of men.
Some observers on the left and the right would just see this as further evidence of what they call, “the infantilization of America,” a phenomenon that extends beyond ideological boundaries. On PlanetPOV, the consequence is described as, “a nation of children whose mommy is celebrity and whose daddy is sports.” Across the political divide, on Dr. Laura’s blog, it is described as, “Be responsible for nothing …”
Yet some people are working to change this, even if it means playing within the confines of a gaming platform. At a speech in NYU on Monday, Al Gore called gaming, “the new normal,” and hoped that they could be used “to illuminate issues that can seem intractable and overly-complex, but [through games] can be illuminated and presented to general audiences in a way that invites people to become involved in trying to solve the problems that our society has to solve.”
Alternately, they can simply be used to fling angry birds at dilapidated structures to see if they can be knocked down.