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2012 Fall Issue 4 (October 12, 2012)

Urback: Karl’s Animal Farmville

October 16, 2012
By Stuart Urback

Before I begin, I would quickly like to apologize to all of my professors for the mental acrobatics I’m about to do in the jared’s galleria of jewelry that is historical and philosophical theory; mea culpa.

For those who are slightly confused, Animal Farm is a book written in 1945 by George Orwell about the hijinks that ensue when a bunch of animals take over a farm. (oversimplifcation intentional)  Farmville is a game released by Zynga in 2009 about hijinks involved in running a farm. (more irony) 

Animal Farm is a satire of the Russian Revolution and Soviet Union.  Farmville is the neo-capitalist pinnacle of everything that Marx could have said about labor and capitalism. (Exaggeration intentional)

The goal of this essay is to convince the reader that these two works are connected by more than name, that they are in fact bookends of satire on communism, capitalism, and human nature in general.

In Farmville, the basic unit of work you (the worker) can do is a click.  A click will let a worker plow land, plant seeds, and harvest the crops. 

The number of clicks a worker makes is roughly proportional to the output of their farm and in turn, their net worth. However, a worker is restricted in the number of clicks they can make. (Damn union regs...) 

This means that for any given period of time they will only be able to make a certain number of clicks on the screen, thus controlling the rate at which their in-game net worth increases.

Under Marx’s interpretation of capitalism, capitalist society distances labor from the result of their product. The worker is working for a wage instead of creating a product, this means that they can feel no satisfaction from their work as there is nothing to show. 

This distances the worker from the power of their labor and keeps them marginalized. In Farmville, the opposite would seem to be true, the worker is in control of their clicks, and gets to determine the type of product they gain as a result.

This is where the time regulation rears its ugly head.  The worker can only make X number of clicks a day, UNLESS they pay more money. 

If they pay money they are allowed to A) Gain more clicks or B) Outright buy the objects they were trying to earn. The capitalism (as Marx argues) that was separating them from the rewards of their labor, now offers them their future labor as a commodity to be purchased in the form of a game.

It gets better.  There are alternative means to making this money. The worker can invite their friends! Adding neighbors to a farm means the worker will get invites which are basically just opportunities for more value for per click. 

The Marxist nightmare is complete.  Not only is the worker paying to access the ability to labor, they are engaging in the ultimate form of a capitalist social exchange, a meaningless frivolity for the selfish end of making more points per click. 

The kicker is that there is no mastery to be had here, no interesting decisions to be made.  The ultimate reward is yet another commodity. (A commodity that can be shown to friends to make them want to, you know, click more.)

Farmville really is the ultimate satire; it’s the companion piece to Animal Farm.  The animals want a utopia (satire of communism) and the farmer wants to play a game (satire of capitalism), but both the farmers’ and animals’ desires for happiness are being exploited for the benefit of a “ruling elite” .  

Does this mean they should both be “required reading” for 9th grade literature class?

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