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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that FarmVille is available only to members of the popular -- but not always child-friendly -- Facebook, and that's why we rate it iffy for young teens. The game itself is clean, safe, and loads of fun, if not especially educational. In FarmVille players plow, plant, and harvest crops to earn virtual coins, raise animals and improve their farmsteads with fences, windmills, and other objects. The more Facebook friends a player can convince to become FarmVille neighbors, the bigger and more successful the farm will be. There's just one catch: FarmVille starts out free, but players eventually have to spend real money -- or shop third-party sponsors like insurance companies -- to acquire all the virtual pieces of the game.
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Is it any good?
This viral Facebook game has millions of monthly users, and for good reason. It's really, really fun. Players start out small with a few plots tended by an overalled avatar that walks down the rows and uses a hoe. Harvesting crops, which take from two hours to four days to grow, earn experience points, which in turn unlock more farm objects for purchase. Bit by bit, players create sprawling properties studded with mooing cows, blossoming fruit trees, quaint farmhouses and acres of thriving crops such as juicy strawberries and golden wheat fields. FarmVille's semi-automatic (you can cancel them) Facebook updates will annoy friends who aren’t farmers. And the game's not really free; the special points needed to fully outfit a farm are so hard to earn you almost have to pull out a credit card. But the game is mesmerizing and hard to abandon.
Online interaction: Fellow players are Facebook friends. Players can visit each other's farms and leave short messages, which are indicated onscreen as cute signposts. Offensive messages can be reported to moderators. Players can also ask each other to help out, such as raking leaves or shooing away foxes, but these are canned messages generated by the system. The game has a message board, which we found to be a mostly helpful and civil exchange of tips.
Talk to your kids about ...
Discuss how some online games can appear to be free but actually cost something if you want to keep playing. How does FarmVille hook players? (Hint: the tractors can be purchased with the game's virtual coins but require gas bought with "cash", special points the game urges players to buy with real-world money.)
In a welcome if calculated trend, social networking games are donating part of their income from virtual goods to charities. Does this make kids want to play the game more? Is this a good or bad thing?
How is virtual farming in FarmVille different from the real thing? How much time and care does it really take to grow a crop and how do the fruits and vegetables reach our dinner plates? Would a real farm have such fanciful items as a baby elephant and a hot air balloon?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.