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The FarmVille Diaries

Can 85 million people be wrong?

Friday 26th March

How did it get to be Friday morning? The FarmVille article's due in on Monday and I haven't started writing it. I've been too busy playing FarmVille.

What have I got to show for it? Some virtual plants. Some digital cows. A pile of money I can't spend on anything which actually exists. A collection of cease and desist notices from non-FarmVille playing Facebook friends who would rather never speak to me again than read one more thing about my artichokes.

How did this happen? What have I become? Has the pub we're going to tonight got wi-fi?

That's it. This stops now. Time to write the article.

I'll just harvest these raspberries first.

It all began back in January, just before the iPad was announced. Blogger Jason Calacanis set the internet on fire by apparently leaking details of the new machine's specs.

Of all the unlikely-sounding claims Calacanis made - solar panel, HDTV tuner, PVR feature and so on - one in particular suggested this just had to be a wind-up. "FarmVille for Apple Tablet is a huge game changer," he wrote on Twitter. "I know for a FACT Mark Pincus is on stage tomorrow with Jobs."

Ridiculous! As if cool, sophisticated, hipster-friendly Apple would launch its new must-have gadget with the help of Mark Pincus, head of brash, uncool, housewife-friendly Zynga. Why go and do a thing like that?

For 85 million reasons. According to Zynga general manager Bill Mooney, that's how many people play FarmVille every month. More people than there are using Twitter. More people than there are in Germany.

Before sending us any screenshots, Zynga wanted to know if this article was 'positive or negative'.

Which got us thinking. Can 85 million people be wrong? What if there's something to this whole FarmVille thing? In the interests of research, it was determined I should give the game a go and report back.

To help with writing the article I decided to keep a diary. This was in the days when I still had time to do things like keep diaries, before I knew what FarmVille would do to my life. What started out as a memory-jogging tool turned into a bleak and chilling record of one woman's spiralling descent into FarmVille addiction. I've included excerpts here in the hope they will act as a warning, and in the hope that padding the article out with them will mean I can get back to my eggplants sooner.

Friday 26th February

Here we go! There are five steps to getting started in FarmVille. And 12 steps to getting out, from what I've heard. Just the other day, a grown man was telling me how he had to interrupt an important business meeting in order to harvest his blueberries. But that won't happen to me - I am a detached and objective professional, and never have to attend any important business meetings.

The five steps involve installing the game, bookmarking the page, agreeing to accept "exclusive offers" and allowing updates to be published automatically. I'm a bit nervous about the last one. I don't want to infuriate all my friends by bombarding their Facebook homepages with rubbish about cows. Still, in the interest of thorough research, I ticked the box. I'm sure they'll understand.

After that I ploughed a few squares of land and planted some strawberries. It's all familiar stuff. The view is isometric and the playing area is divided into a grid. There's a Market where you can buy seeds, animals, vehicles and so on. You get XP and "Farm coins" for harvesting crops, and you get to buy more stuff as you level up.

So we decided to take our own.

Much like Harvest Moon, Ranch Rush and every other farming game ever made, then. What's all the fuss about?

Saturday 27th February

Logged in today to be greeted by a barrage of messages. "We are actively working to resolve Out of Sync and Gift issues," read one. What's a Gift? Why do they have issues? "For now, Unwither has been turned on for all farmers," read another. "We've just released additions to the Lunar New Year package as well as the ALL NEW California-themed Limited Edition items!". What?

Message after message, and I barely understood any of them. Is there some sort of tutorial I missed? I planted some more strawberries and logged out, feeling frightened and confused.

There are no further entries for several weeks. I was avoiding FarmVille, ostensibly due to a heavy workload, but really because I was worried there must be something wrong with me if FarmVille left me frightened and confused. With the article deadline looming, however, it was time to press on.