Friday, August 19, 2011

Secular CityVille

By now everyone has heard of Zynga's social network games, which you can easily find as Facebook applications. Facebook constantly advertises them and they are nearly unavoidable. You have FarmVille, FrontierVille, CityVille, and dozens of other games that you can play inside your browser when you are logged onto Facebook, provided your web browser can run the Adobe Flash Player at a reasonable speed. For a time, I played FrontierVille, having managed to build up for myself a nice little homestead out in the electronic frontier, which had what I thought was a lovely orchard of fruit trees. A short distance away from it on the other side of my homestead, I placed a small cemetery and flower garden. And I recollect having a doctor's office, and land office, several other buildings, and a corral where I kept my livestock. I liked growing mint and harvesting the crops from my orchards.

Zynga also likes to throw game "projects" your way, which have some kind of reward if they're successfully completed. Unfortunately, Zynga rained so many of these projects down on me in FronterVille that it became tiresome trying to keep up with them all. Besides this, FrontierVille could be on the buggy side, where things didn't always work correctly or exhibited quirky behavior. After a time, I called it quits and shut down my little homestead and pulled up stakes, so to speak, and moved to Zynga's CityVille. I really don't have time to keep up with more than one game.

I consider CityVille adorably cute. I am forgiveably proud of how over time I have laid out the little town that I created, which now has a population of a little over 6000 virtual souls. The place has a post office, a large city hall, two schools, a factory, a pub, a museum, a library, other "community" buildings, a small farm where crops are grown, a colorful mall, restaurants, and many other places to go shopping. Recently, I managed to expand to the other side of the river after having built a bridge. On that side, there is a sandy beach which I have big plans for. And I have put in on the "north" side of town what can be called an big amusement park. As I recall, my town has reached level 47, mediocre as far as towns go within CityVille. You should see some of my neighbors' sprawling megapolises. Now if the virtual souls enjoy anything while living there in my virtual city, they very much love to go shopping. When I deliver the "goods" to my various virtual stores, the inhabitants will begin all at once to troop out of their little houses, perambulating up and down the streets and sidewalks, and finding their way to the stores so as to spend their virtual incomes. And also I collect the rent from the virtual houses they live in, the virtual funds being spent expanding and furbishing the town. It's all a curious sight to behold. Some of inhabitants even stroll along with baby carriages as if they had families, and some even ride motor scooters up and down the streets. It's a bustling little town, and some of the animation is genuinely amusing.

However, I do have one complaint. Zynga allows you to build a imaginative array of very cute virtual buildings. But there's one thing glaring for its absence. In CityVille, Zynga allows no churches. That's right. You can't build a church in your little town, let alone a sprawling megachurch campus with an enormous parking lot. You can have anything else, but no churches. Nor you can have cathedrals, nor synagogues, nor mosques, nor zoroastrian shrines, nor buddhist temples. You can't even have a Masonic Lodge, or a sweat lodge, as far as I can tell. I guess Zynga's virtual universe allows only for the purest, most unadulterated atheism imaginable, as if the virtual people inhabiting my town had no virtual souls as they live on in their Godless Zynga universe. Can we call this Virtual Existentialism? Or Zyngaism? Even though Gene Roddenberry's Star Trekian universe was relentless for it humanist outlook, at least the Klingons there were allowed to have their sanguinary quasi-shamanistic paganism, and the Vulcans their New-Agey, matriarchal, somewhat cornball spirituality. And in George Lucas's galaxy, long ago and far far away, the coldly impersonal and dualistic Force is always with you, in a way that somehow manages to be both good and evil, darkness and light. But in Zynga's virtual world, everybody is a hardcore secularist and any sign of religion is strictly verboten, or so I would guess.

[Update, 2011 Sep 05] Later on, after what I wrote above, Zynga came out with a new game called "SunnyTown," which is similar to CityVille in several ways. However, my wife has pointed out to me that in SunnyTown you are allowed to build churches. I wonder if someone at Zynga has been reading Lunar Ossuary for hints. I hope they will extend the same feature to CityVille.