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Right click to harvest your crops in FarmVille

On Facebook, the online farming game FarmVille has millions planting, rotating crops, and raising livestock without the cleanup or the smell.

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A mother of a 3-year-old daughter and the wife of a paramedic, Grimes squeezes in simulated farming between appointments and parenting. She devotes less than an hour each day "in little bitty spurts" to eventually max out her FarmVille spread to resemble a whimsical menagerie — black sheep, pink calves, penguins, reindeer with flashing Christmas lights in their antlers.

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"It was completely mindless and just mine," she says. "I could decide where everything went, I could decide when it happened. I got to move things around. I got to make it look nice."

She loves getting rewards at every turn, often for helping a neighbor. And she credits FarmVille with hastening her reconnection with old friends, including a fourth-grade schoolmate who's now living next door to her in this online agricultural experience.

"I don't know anything about her life except she's a really nice neighbor — she leaves me little posts, she sends me nice gifts, harvests my crops. And it makes me feel better about people in my life," Grimes says. "What's so nice about this is it's really about camaraderie, like you depend on people to do things for you."

"I really would have never thought this would have been something I do," she says.

Even actual farmers are digging it. In his central Illinois farmhouse near Windsor, 31-year-old bachelor Darin Doehring started playing months ago with the game he credits with helping him wait out sogginess that hampered harvesting of his 2,000 acres of real corn and soybeans.

"There were more times this past fall I was doing my crops more on there (FarmVille), than I was in the field because of the rain and mud outside. I enjoy it," Doehring says, noting that he wished the fantasy game posed more challenges mimicking real-life ones farmers face, including weather events.

Mr. Mooney of Zynga says that isn't likely: "We don't want it to be a punishing experience. We want this to be a positive."

To John Reifsteck, a corn-and-soybean grower in Champaign County, Ill., there are parallels between virtual and actual farming. "Success at FarmVille requires foresight, persistence, and a willingness to help others — just like farming in the real world," he wrote in an online column last month.

And while he doesn't play FarmVille — "I work in the fields for a living" — he understands those who do and welcomes FarmVille's popularity.

"It's a healthy sign for agriculture — but only if players don't come to think that running a farm is as easy as FarmVille makes it seem," he wrote. "If FarmVille was as difficult and complicated as actual farming, probably no one would play it."

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