Friday, 25 March 2011

Village of the Damned

It’s 6.30am and the alarm is doing its usual morning beep. A groggy arm swings to turn it off, but instead of tapping snooze and retreating back under the duvet, it keeps going and reaches for an i-Phone. There are some tiny muffled taps on a glass screen then suddenly the sound of chirrups and birdsong can be heard. Moments later the room is alive with the noise of activity; saws sawing, spades digging, workers whistling, giggling and grumbling. It can mean only one thing: the Smurfs are awake.

If three is a crowd, our little house has been like Wembley Stadium of late. Courtesy of Smurfs Village, another pointless but addictive i-Phone time-waster, we are now sharing every waking moment with 40 (and counting) cheeky tiny blue people with a very strong work ethic and no interest in shirts.

For those familiar with the concept, Smurfs Village is like Farmville but with more blue. Players are provided with a large clearing in a forest and requested to create new homestead where itinerant Smurfs can live. By planting and successfully growing crops, players earn cash and power-ups to buy things to make the village more homely – houses that look like mushrooms, flower beds, park benches, lampposts, giant friendly caterpillars and the like.

In theory we are omnipotent super beings helping them rebuild their village somewhere safe from the villainous Gargamel. In practice we are their slaves, responding to the daily chores set out by the bearded Papa Smurf. These range from the reasonable (‘Plant four crops of blackcurrants so we can make some juice for thirsty Smurfs’) to the vaguely surreal (‘Send 5 Smurfs into the woods to placate some angry chipmunks). Such tasks are undertaken in real time, which has led to examples of me receiving texts during work meetings advising that my carrots are ready to harvest and should be collected before they wither.

Smurfs Village isn’t a new concept, combining elements of the SIMS series, Tamagotchi robot pets and several other Farmville derivatives. However one interesting addition is the capacity to spend actual money on improving your village. This allows you to fast track the rebuilding process, giving you access to games, utilities and special characters like Smurfette.

I only know one person who has gone down this route and the result was terrifying. Given free reign over her Smurfdom, she created a nightmarish futuristic high rise agrarian nightmare. Row upon row of Smurf houses sit on top of each other like a mushroom Manhattan whilst almost 100 Smurfs work the soil relentlessly, growing only the highest value crops with no break in sight. Meanwhile, Smurfette’s house sits isolated across a river, ‘for her own good.’

Without this purchase power, my own village has evolved slowly and is (I believe) a much nicer place for it. Stone walls line the paths, all homes have gardens with benches and picnic tables and crop rotation keeps the Smurfs and soil happy. Meanwhile my actual garden has gone to pot. Weeds have taken over, all my herbs have gone to seed and the grass was recently up to my knees, but that’s OK because Papa Smurf doesn’t tell me off about that.

Of course with great power comes responsibility, a burden some people take more seriously than others. Another friend was greatly distressed when the village she and her daughter had lovingly created suddenly vanished into the ether after her phone crashed. Still mourning for her little friends, she diligently restarted, only to see that village disappear and be replaced by her original creation. She now accepts that it is her destiny to tend and nurture whichever village is in front of her and has vowed not to shirk her responsibilities.

As for me, well, I’m ashamed to report that my interest in the Smurfs is already on the wane. I’m sick of being a slave to my crops and I’m bored of waiting 42 hours for Smurfs to come back from the forest after tending to a sick squirrel (unless the glitch in the programming which randomly speeds up Smurf time happens to occur). I’m over Handy Smurf’s dull hammering game and generally fed up of tarting up a village that I was quite happy with several levels ago.

In considering whether to ditch the village I was reminded of the most recent series of Mad Men, in which a spurned lover tells a newly engaged Don Draper ‘I hope she knows you only like the beginning of things.’ I wondered if this might also be true for me and the Smurfs? Could it be that with the novelty over and the interesting work done, simply maintaining my creation and generally making sure that everyone is alright is something that just isn’t in my nature? It’s almost reason to stop someone from having children.

If so, it’s the best argument I’ve heard to date that there is a God, somewhere out there. It’s just that having nicely set everything up here on Earth, leaving a few aardvarks and venus fly traps and manatees and dinosaurs and people about the place, he or she got a bit bored, downloaded a new game called Earth 2.0 and just left us all to look after ourselves.

For now my Smurfs can rest easy and I will continue to tend to their needs. Besides, I only need a few more smurfberries to buy Smurfette’s house - I’ve come too close to give up now. After that though, all bets are off. My little blue friends had better up their game in the entertainment stakes or else, in the words of their bearded leader, their smurf could be smurfed.


Oily said...

You've nailed it with this piece.

By the way, do you get indignant when the smurfs sit down on Handy Smirf's logs instead of walking around? Or is that just me.

Mint Custard said...

I don't mind it when they have a sit down. It's why I gave them benches. I think if I was in my village I'd be looking for benches and logs to sit down on too.

Meanwhile, be glad you're not these parents: