Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fantasy Kingdoms for Real People

I was enticed onto Facebook initially, as are most people, I suspect, by a friend who wished to share photographs from her own REAL life with me. She was a fan of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory as well as my Guides for a number of years but has become a real friend, and, I must add, one who moved heaven and earth recently to take one of my purebred Himalayan kittens. (In doing so, flying him all the way to Texas, she has earned my eternal gratitude.)

In any event, she set my guide-writing persona upon another path when she asked me to write a Guide for an extremely popular Facebook farming game named Farmville. When I began to play Farmville, I found other farming games such as Lovely Farm and Fantasy Kingdoms that were far more beautiful and I introduced my friend to these... It is rather ironic in a way that she now plays Fantasy Kingdoms rather than Farmville.

Many of the philosophical arguments for and against simulation games can be reserved for another time. Where a game like Fantasy Kingdoms is concerned, however, some very positive values become apparent during holiday seasons. Once upon a time, before the age of technology and computers, people who had no families and those known rather depressingly as 'shut-ins' often would become more painfully aware of their isolation and loneliness during holiday seasons. Those who could not share in the joys of decorating their own home or the appreciation of the decorations outside their homes would be oppressed by the knowledge of their limitations and lack of mobility. Now, however, there is a solution that can be extremely fulfilling in its way.

The online 'farming simulation games' such as Farmville and Fantasy Kingdoms, being based on Facebook, are geared towards expansion of an individual's social network. 'Sharing' is fundamental to all of these games. You are persuaded to add as many 'Neighbours' and 'Friends' to the game as possible. As they are free games, inviting a friend to participate involves no outlay of cash nor even information if the friend chooses not to share real data on Facebook. The way that these free games make money is by offering exclusive items that usually require purchase of a special currency using REAL cash. You can earn this special currency in the course of playing the game but it is a slow process and players often desire the exclusive items enough to invest real money in the game.

Investment of real cash in an online Facebook game might be perceived by many as foolish, but there is a compelling argument in favour of it. Console games and PC Games are not free for the most part and can cost up to 50 dollars in some cases. Free Facebook games on the other hand REQUIRE no purchase. Players reap the benefits of playing the free game, but how can the developers work on new games if there is NO investment in their products? Spending five or ten dollars to purchase exclusive items, when seen in this light, becomes more of an act of patronage of the arts than wanton foolishness.

A few years ago, I became involved in Second Life, a free virtual reality and my greatest pleasure in the game for the most part occurred during the holidays when players would create breathtaking or delightful items, then sell them or give them away or simply allow others to enjoy them. Second Life was based on the premise that the users of the game would create the world themselves. The experience therefore was very uneven. Wastelands or lands filled with rubbish could be found next to amazing wonderlands. Unfortunately, the star of Second Life has waned because of the economic recession... It is possible that as Facebook has become more involved in simulation games, that these games have taken the place of Second Life for some. After all, both on Second Life and Facebook, you can meet real people and interact with them.

Although the items themselves are created by the developers of the games on Facebook, players use them to create their own unique landscapes. Many of the so-called farming simulation games thus are interactive works of art. This is very much the case where Fantasy Kingdoms is concerned. The combination of the exquisite items created by extraordinary artists at SneakyGames and the use made of them by players can be spectacular.

At the heart of all Facebook games is the concept of 'Neighbours'. You are not encouraged to play the game in isolation, although you can do so. Many items and options are 'unlocked' only if you acquire Neighbours. The more Neighbours that you have, the better your gaming experience will be.

Although your gaming 'Friends' and 'Neighbours' may not be people that you know in your real life, interactions with them often do create real relationships. A person's personality is seen in the way that they treat others even in games. Free Gifts are very much a part of online Facebook games. There will be a list of items that can be sent to Friends and Neighbours on a daily basis. Some people never send Free Gifts but others make it a part of their daily Facebook routine. In helping others, the players of course help themselves, as 'Thank You Gifts' are encouraged in return.

For individuals with busy real lives, finding time and energy to experience virtual realities on Facebook can be a challenge, but for those who are isolated or disabled, it can be social salvation, especially during the holidays. After all, even if your 'Kingdom' is a virtual one, you can obtain extraordinary emotional and aesthetic satisfaction by decorating it for the holidays. Receiving virtual Gifts can be very satisfying as well. Knowing that REAL people are thinking about you and will go to the trouble to send you special items is a link with other people, even if the items exist only in a virtual reality.

Farmville may not be as gorgeous visually as Fantasy Kingdoms but it can be a lot of fun during any holiday season. The developers always release new construction projects and there are holiday Quests for Christmas with rewards in the form of special Yuletide items. Farmville has become far more entertaining now that the Crafting option has been included in the game. Although each of these games require a bit of time and energy, I find that I enjoy both Farmville and Fantasy Kingdoms, unlike my friend in Texas.

Many of us cannot afford to spend much money decorating for the holidays this year but in Fantasy Kingdoms, every one is a Prince or Princess with the power to distribute largesse and create a Winter Wonderland.

Note about Screenshots: The three screenshots are taken from Fantasy Kingdoms and feature special Winter items. The Magical Crop for the Winter Season is 'Ornaments'. When first planted, they are coloured glass ornament bulbs scattered on snowy ground. When they are fully mature and ready to be harvested, they are a glorious display of different ornaments, including a Golden Star, Red Ribbons and a Toy Drum. Each Crop in Fantasy Kingdoms has very distinct stages of growth and many players 'freeze' Crops at different stages to create interesting landscapes. For example, the FishTail Fern, when it is newly planted, can be used to create a lovely rock-like path.

The Christmas Tree that displays lit candles when it first is planted will be an undecorated evergreen covered with snow. It is only when it is ready to be harvested that the lit candles and pinecones will appear.

The little Ornament House is a special seasonal Item as is the Candy Cane Lightpost.

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