Virtual reality players form real-world community

May 19, 2011 By SEAN O'DRISCOLL , Associated Press
This Tuesday, April 26, 2011 photo shows Kyra Wilson playing Farmville on her computer at her home in New Haven, Vt. Wilson, a Vermont artist, is one of a small group that has mastered the agriculture planning game, Farmville. She just added a third virtual castle to her farm, which already has a French palace and a winery. She sells virtual wine to pay for the farm's expansion. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

(AP) -- In a downtown New York restaurant, a high-ranking Mafia meeting was underway. Three men who robbed, murdered and extorted together were having a top-level sit-down.

"It was very exciting," said one of them, Christopher Chester. "We have fought our way out of some tough situations."

But while their criminal activity - all fictional - took place in the virtual world, the meeting took place in the . Chester, 39, is one of the longest-serving Mafia dons in the Mafia Wars, in which fight their way to guns, power and property with the help of other "family" members.

He is also one of Mafia Wars' top players, earning the prestigious "power player" title enjoyed by a tiny minority of online mobsters. His Mafia sit-down with other online mobsters - in a place where the stairs bore the chalk outline of a body - happened just hours before a party thrown in Lower Manhattan for some of virtual reality's biggest players. They included not just Mafia dons, but also kings and queens of the farm-building game Farmville and the city-planning game Cityville. While tens of millions of people play these games online, the elite players take it to the next level, with their own subcultures and friendships.

Kyra Wilson, a Vermont artist, is an elite player in the agriculture planning game, Farmville. She just added a third virtual castle to her farm, which already has a French palace and a winery. She sells virtual wine to pay for the farm's expansion.

As with Mafia Wars, the real-world community is part of the draw for top Farmville players like Wilson. "They send me cards in the mail for my birthday," said Wilson, who lives on 10 acres in Vermont with her husband and two kids. "When my mother had a mini-stroke, they sent me lots of notes of encouragement for her. One of my favorite players lives in Maryland and has just got married. I'm editing her wedding photos as my wedding gift to her. The community is just amazing."

Does she grow her own crops in real world Vermont?

"No, we let the local dairy farmers have the land for their herds," she said. "The farmers here work really hard, they really do, but I don't think I could ever match that."

In Los Angeles, Robert Yee spends two to three hours every weekday playing the urban design game, Cityville, and between four and eight hours a day on weekends.

"My fiancee says that I sometimes spend more time on Cityville than I do with her," he said.

Yee has earned Farmville' "power player" status and is considered to have one of the best-designed virtual cities. Yee sees his hobby as good training for the time when his many hours of strategy, management and multitasking will help him set up a dental practice in the real world.

"It also helps you decide what kind of world you want to live in," he said. "I know the kind of community I want to create and maybe that is also the same on Farmville."

But while building perfect farms and cities online may provide idyllic visions for the real world, surely playing gangster isn't practice for real life?

"No, we're not involved in real organized crime," said Chester with a laugh. "Look around you - our cigars are made of chocolate. The people we kill online just make great friends in the real world."

Those friendships extend around the world, and they can run deep. When Chester visited Singapore, he went out to dinner with two Mafia Wars players. When a member of his online "family" was laid off at Christmas, other members raised over $200 so he could buy presents for his children. And when a rival family member discovered his son had cancer, Chester helped organize a Mafia Wars tournament that raised more than $12,000 in real-world cash.

"And then," said Chester, sipping on whiskey and rye and chomping on a chocolate cigar, "we got back to killing each other."

Explore further: Turkey still hopes Twitter will open local office

1 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lady Gaga to debut songs on online game FarmVille

May 11, 2011

(AP) -- Lady Gaga is turning to an unusual method to cultivate her fan base: The pop icon is releasing songs from her new album on a section of the popular online game "FarmVille" before they can be heard ...

Zynga plants 'FarmVille' app

Jul 05, 2010

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus is expanding his farm. Zynga's ultrapopular Facebook game FarmVille, which has 70 million active monthly players, has launched a mobile app for Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad touch-screen tablet.

Recommended for you

White House updating online privacy policy

3 hours ago

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Net neutrality balancing act

22 hours ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

Apr 16, 2014

Social networking company Twitter on Wednesday rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office there, following accusations of tax evasion and a two-week ban on the service.

How does false information spread online?

Apr 16, 2014

Last summer the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify top trends facing the world, including what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.