Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rich Girl Finds Solace - in Video Games

I went to a funeral service this morning; the mother of an office assistant died at much too young an age, leaving her daughter - much too young to lose a mother - distraught and lost. I was going to stay for a few minutes, but I actually lasted an hour. The funeral home was on Bleecker Street in an old Italian quarter. There were the requisite photographs of weddings, proms, first steps, a cremation urn and enough flowers to snuff out the smell of mourning. Death can make you think of all sorts of things, not the least of which is how good it is to be alive. I hugged the office assistant before leaving until I almost smothered her, as though I was trying to infuse her with something she could live for, perhaps one could call it hope.

On my walk home, I realized it was I who needed the hope. I lost a listing this week and 10 million in business. The first was a relief - the poetess I spoke of in an earlier blog had become too crazy to handle; the second was due to a high up Wall Streeter's distrust of the future of all market(s), something I could not argue against with the present value of anything. I also realized that my self esteem is inextricably connected to what I am doing and how successful I am. Right now, with my apartment up in the air, bills to pay, no health insurance and no real lifelines, well, my self esteem has disappeared somewhere into the molten core of the earth where it is being summarily incinerated.

Late at night, I have tried to remedy this in a way I would call ridiculous if anyone else told me they were doing it. I play video games. Not just ANY video games, but two in particular: Bejeweled 2, where you line up 3 or more of the same brightly colored gem and get points for each line and Farm Town, where you are actually building a virtual world. While I have actually won money with Bejeweled 2 (a whole five dollars), it's Farm Town that obssesses me. In it, you build your own farm universe. You plant crops, harvest them, earn coins with which you can buy a zillion things in the farm stores, from upgrading your plot of land to hedges, fences, silos and wells. Every 500 coins you reach a new level and the right to purchase or send as gifts new things. You can go to the marketplace and hire other avatars (you as a farmer are an avatar, complete with chosen name and physical characteristics) to harvest your crops, earning 25% more than if you did it yourself. Right now I'm at Level 14, which is called Specialist. I am ahead of my two nieces, who also play, and my friend A., who is a top real estate broker in a neighboring state. I am saving up to buy a bigger farm; I am very very close to being able to do so. Every time I plow a seed lot or buy a new fruit bearing tree, I feel I'm getting richer and richer. Here, in Farm Town, I am a winner.

Sometimes it is hard to turn Farm Town off and get back to real moneymaking ventures. The placement of the crops, their harvesting, moving the sheep and cows around, building fences, starts to haunt your dreams. I wake up in the middle of the night: are all the chickens in their pen? Did Avatar Joe finish harvesting the strawberries? Why doesn't anyone like to harvest trees? My Avatar's name is, astonishingly, Deborah. Other people have names like Old McDonald, Fifi, Princess Manurea, Farmer Apple, etc. My avatar Deborah has light blue hair and exotic green eyes. If she goes to find work in the marketplace, she is almost always picked. I tried a number of different looks until I found which worked best. In terms of cost, changing my avatar's appearance sure beats plastic surgery hands down.

So when you are sitting around late at night sipping your wine or something stronger, I am in front of a computer creating a parallel universe where I feel good, if only for a while, and if only in my head. I watch the crops grow tall and green, I harvest and re-plant, and I have crates and carts and a citrus grove and several pigs, chickens and cows, and have almost saved enough coins for a small farm house. Of course, I have my eye on the gigantic farm MANSION, many harvests away. And in this fecund virtual world of soil and sweat, I can be positive that, sooner or later, I'll certainly get there.