(main interface of Happy Farm)
Happy Farm is perhaps the most famous social network game in China (main interface shown above). It was developed by a Chinese developer Five Minutes and incorporated by RenRen as a web game. The main idea behind this Happy Farm is the simulation of farm management. Users can grow corps, trade with their RenRen friends and the most popular feature is that, they can ‘STEAL’ their friends’ corps if the corps are not harvested in time.
Happy Farm is so successful that people in China start to greet each other by ‘Have you checked your farm’. At the height of its popularity, there were 23 million daily active users, logging on to the game at least every 24 hours. However, as Happy Farm reaches so many people daily, some ethical issues are also raised up. Let’s have a closer look at these issues in the following discussion.
1) Is STEAL in the virtual world moral?
This dilemma is quite similar to LambdaMOO’s case. In Happy Farm, when users steal their friends’ corps, their friends’ would not know who actually did that and their loss is some virtual money. However, is it just because all these happen virtually that such an obvious action of ‘steal’ should be considered moral and tolerated? Let’s zoom in.
Firstly, stakeholders in this case are all the users of Happy Farm and perhaps the society as a whole. Users are sometimes thieves as they steal their friends’ corps and sometimes victims as their corps are stolen. Society as a whole is also involved as Happy Farm is so popular that some basic ethical principles are being challenged.
Secondly, the alternative would be not to steal but if so, Happy Farm would be very dull and boring. Certainly, Five Minutes(the developer) should add some other features to make up of this. But the feature of ‘steal’ is the most popular feature as it facilitates great interactions among friends. So if this feature is missing, Happy Farm may not be appealling at all.
Last but not least, what would be our solution? So many people are involved in this virtual game and they are all recognizable with their real identity registered. They value this game for farm simulation, which is quite far away from city dwellers, and frequently interations with their friends through ‘mutual stealing’. A possible solution would be to impose some punishment of this stealing action just like in the real world. The punishment can be in many forms, voluntary works for the victim’s farm or compensations using virtual money. This is just to ensure that everyone would take steal seriously even in the virtual world. Actually, after some questioning in the media, Five Minutes has added the feature of having a dog to guard the farm. Of course, users need money to buy the dog. In return, the dog may catch and bite the thief from time to time. At least, there is some form of punishment.
(a dog walking around to guard the farm)
Should we take virtual game so seriously? One may argue that after all, it is just a game and some sort of entertainment and relax for stressed people. Well, look at the following case and you may change your opinion.
2) What to STEAL when they Grow Up?
Nowadays, ICT products are no longer some luxrious belongs which are far away from ordinary people. Instead, ICT is so ubiquitous that a 3-year-old kid can play with it. Sometimes, kids learn to log onto social networking sites even before they can walk. This may sound a bit exaggerated but no one can deny that this post-2000 generation are leading a life that we would not have imagined.
With the emergence of Happy Farm, a new ethical problem has been raised. If kids are used to steal virtual corps now, what do they steal when they grow up?
As an old Chinese proverb goes, you can figure out one’s future from his childhood. That is why society pays special attention to kids. They are not able to distinguish the right and the wrong. But they do have their own recognition of the world around them and they are very likely to be influenced and to follow what they see and hear most without knowing the exact meaning of these actions. As a result, they need guidance as they develop their own values and start to regulate themselves. At such stage, if they start to steal corps frequently and feel proud about this ‘stealing’ as they are rewarded with virtual money and without any penalty, can you ever imagine what would they steal afterwards?
（kids also addicted to Happy farm)
Applying the Act Utilitarianism (Consequentialism) Theory, it is apparent that the overall ‘value’ of the popularity of Happy Farm among kid is very low and this act is quite harmful, especially in the long run. Kids may suffer from the real punishment from ‘stealing’ in the real world when they grow up and so do their parents. Society as a whole will have to deal with this troublesome generation and try to regulate their behavior.
To avoid such a situation, there are two practical solutions. One is already mentioned in the previous section, which is to impose some penalty of ‘stealing’ in Happy Farm’. The other one would rely on the parents. They should kind of ‘screen’ what are the suitable games for kids and not let kids be exposed to things that are too early for them.
Undoubtedly, Happy Farm does have its attractions for being so popular. It is really innovative and creative as it provides users an opportunity to experience farm management as they may never do so before. What is more, Happy Farm serves as an platform for people to relax. Despite all these, this blog tries to analyze some ethical issues regarding Happy Farm and also suggests some possible solutions. We hope this discussion do make people think twice before they become a Happy Farmer. 🙂