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October 28, 2009
Taiwanese Internet gamers addicted to ‘Happy Farm’

A Taiwanese gamer playing Happy Farm on Facebook.
Photo: Flickr user copycatko

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.  She writes about the current Taiwanese obsession with a Facebook game.

“Happy Farm,” a six-month-old Facebook application, has spawned millions of cyber farmers across the island. According to the game developer, Taiwanese fans constitute up to 80 percent of the 3.7 million members of “Happy Farm.” Thanks to its popularity, Facebook’s reach rate in August was up 60 percent from July, which helped Taiwan post the highest growth in new Facebook members worldwide during September.

The rule of “Happy Farm” is quite simple: You come, you seed, you conquer. Each virtual farmer is allowed to set up farms, grow crops and raise livestock in a fiercely competitive environment. Points are won not only by one’s hard work but also his craft in stealing from friends when they are offline.

However, not everyone is happy with “Happy Farm.” Taiwanese premier Wu Den-yih recently had to step in to discourage people–especially civil servants–from playing it.

Wu’s comment came after several server shut-downs at local police stations because too many police were playing the game at work. The authority also worried that “crop-stealing” might hurt the image of the police.

The Happy Farm craze has set Taiwanese society in circus. In private companies, managers have issued statements to make clear that “harvesting in an air-conditioned room is immoral.” Some restaurants have even been renovated to resemble the “Happy Farm” interface to attract customers!

Students are complaining that too much work has made them unable to wake up in the middle of night to guard their crops; even drug dealers have been seen using the game to contact customers and establish new networks.

Experts say that overuse of Happy Farm didn’t come out of thin air, though. Taiwanese people are generally overworked, and it is the fatigue generated by heavy workload, experts argue, that leaves people no choice but to get connected through the Internet as much as possible.

According to the 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook published by the Lausanne-based business school IMD, Taiwan’s working hours were ranked as the fifth-longest in the world – behind Mexico, Hong Kong, South Korea and India.

Since each Taiwanese employee has to work an average of 2,256 hours a year, experts said “Happy Farm” provides an ideal environment for self-indulgence at work. While taking care of your own farm brings contentment, getting a taste of humanity by stealing crops somehow eases the feeling of isolation.

Now, pardon me for ending my article here. I really need to get back to my farm to collect some pumpkins.

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