Log on and veg out

Log on and veg out

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Now you can turn on your computer and get back to nature - you and your friends can play Happy Farm and grow your own crops, writes Lai Ying-kit

When office workers and students turn on their computers, the first thing millions of them now log on to is online mini-game Happy Farm.

The free-of-charge simulation game has been a huge hit in Hong Kong and on the mainland since it was first launched on social networking websites last year.

Each player is given a small farm on which to grow vegetables, flowers and fruits. They then use the virtual money they earn from the sales of their crops to develop the farm - and boost their score and ranking.

'Almost all my Facebook friends are playing it and I feel I shouldn't be left out. It is a good tool for socialising because it is simple and everyone can easily pick it up,' said Jerry Leung Pak-hang, a 19-year-old student at City University.

He said he seldom talked about online games with girls, but Happy Farm was an exception.

'I and my schoolmates, both boys and girls, all talk about it with enthusiasm,' he said.

According to reports, the game has up to 30 million registered players. On Facebook alone, more than 3 million users have played the game in the past month.

But the game can be time-consuming. To maximise efficiency, players have to cultivate, irrigate, fertilise and harvest regularly.

And although players can afford seeds for more advanced crops as they progress through the levels, these plants take much longer to mature - one can take up to 30 hours.

But Happy Farm does offer a cunning shortcut - players can steal vegetables from their friends' farms and sell them as their own.

But for many players, the game's greatest pleasure lies not in scoring, but in the way it provides a common talking point with friends.

'Playing it together with my friends, and even my colleagues, helps us bond with each other,' said 22-year-old clerk Sammi Ho Mei-fen.

Ho added that she plays the game with more than 15 of her fellow workers.

'Sometimes we just want a breather from work. It cheers you up when one of your colleagues has stolen vegetables from another, and you all giggle about it together,' she explained.

Another reason for the popularity of Happy Farm is, unlike many more sophisticated online games, there is no need for complex tactics - or affection for warfare or science fiction.

But the game is less popular with bosses, who fear that when staff secretly log on, their work rate suffers.

Concerned about the number of obsessed players, many mainland companies have blocked access to social networking sites.

Ho said she had been playing less but she would still log on to tend to her farm 'when she has time'.

Apparently, some players even set their alarm clocks to get up in the middle of the night to tend to their plants.

Both Leung and Ho said they tended their farms whenever they could snatch a few moments during the day. But neither would wake up especially to harvest their crops.

'After all, it's just a game. It is unhealthy to let a virtual game affect your daily life that much. It may cause problems and you could become addicted,' Leung said.

Watch a video on the dangers of the Farmville application

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