Meatspace Farmville

Paul Raven @ 04-05-2011

The socnetting/gamification of everything seems to be picking up pace. How’d you fancy playing Farmville with a real working farm?

The MyFarm experiment hands over power at the National Trust’s 2,500-acre Wimpole Estate farm in Cambridgeshire, UK. Up to 10,000 farming novices will choose which bull to buy, which crop to plant and whether to spilt fields to resurrect lost hedgerows.

“I will put in here whatever the online farmers want to grow,” said Richard Morris, Wimpole’s manager, standing on the edge of Pond Field, currently green with grass and clover rippling in the wind. “Farming is always a compromise – there is never a right or a wrong answer. If I choose one thing, my neighbour will be leaning over the fence shaking his head.”

Wisely (or perhaps disappointingly, depending on how you view the necessity of learning from stupid mistakes), it’s not a completely open system:

“The online farmers will not be able to choose to grow cannabis or bananas, but undoubtedly there will be some strange decisions, some decisions I would not have made.”

[…]

Morris says all major decisions will be put to the MyFarm users.

There will be one big vote each month, but these could trigger more frequent votes. In Pond Field, for example, if wheat is chosen, should it be bread-making wheat or biscuit wheat? “I am making decisions every day,” he says. “The first thing I do after getting up is look at the weather out of the window, and that sets the day going.”

Right now, with 300 new lambs delivered and scampering in the fields, Morris is bringing in grass to make silage for next winter’s feed. But the dry weather has left the fields short of grass, so the young cattle are being left in the barns for a while, to make sure the sheep have enough.

In the future, Morris says, there will be a smartphone app which will allow him to get near instant decisions from the online farmers. “For example, if I have wheat in the field, ripe and ready, but rain in the morning means it is damp, do we risk waiting and losing some of the crop, or combining [harvesting] it now and incurring some extra drying costs?”

I remember how SimCity and Railroad Tycoon got me interested in economic systems (although, as our very own Jonathan McCalmont has pointed out, the systems they portray don’t reflect reality in an entirely accurate way), so there’s little doubt that gamification can educate and fascinate… but I suspect the slow pay-off aspect of real agriculture will provide insufficient rewards for the sort of folk who get a kick from Farmville. Even so, I’m encouraged by the possibilities for engagement with reality that these sorts of initiatives are moving toward; regular readers will know that I believe we need to become more actively involved with the systems that support our existence, and while MyFarm is a very basic implementation of that idea, it’s a step in the right direction.

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One Response to “Meatspace Farmville”

  1. Khannea Suntzu says:

    What if we have better robots? It won’t be long. When we do, they will be cheapest when massproduced. They will be programmable, and steadily get smarter – or – engineers and programmers will steadily be more aware what works and what doesn’t. Tat would be ‘more tested in the field’. Many of these robots will operate doing assigned tasks but very often users will log into robots and dedicate tasks intelligently and consciously. There is no reason to assume one human will be bound in the sensory confines of one bot. Why not a human (or multiple humans) looking top-down in a virtual space (not unlike a game-space) where several robots or sensory systems lift ‘the fog of war’ from the static rendition of something like, say, Google Dirt. That would be some farm-ville. That would be one really wild sim earth. I would make damn sure I lock my house well at night and make sure no enemy robots sneak in. They might photograph me indecently, or log in my PC. I might even have to anticipate and get my anti-robot robot home defense eventually. It won’t be like I can depend on *the police* to wage a war against a swarming tide of robots everywhere. What – from taxpayer money? What taxpayer money? What jobs?