Why are virtual chores fun but real chores a drag?


I’ve pondered the question many times of why people gladly spend endless hours performing virtual tasks that in their real life they avoid like the plague.  A recent post by @fjfonseca over at BitRebels touched on the subject, and as I have a 14-year-old daughter who has her virtual Facebook farm and aquarium and other examples too numerous to mention, I really started to think about it. Why does my daughter so gladly do these virtual chores in Farmville, but avoid helping take care of our real pony, dog, cats, and fish? When I try to get my kids to work on our garden every year it’s like pulling teeth, but her virtual garden is award-winning.

     Perhaps one reason is the feedback system involved. In Farmville she reaches levels, gets awards, and her accomplishments are sent over social networks to her friends. With her real garden she gets a ‘job well done’ from me, and far down the road some vegetables to eat. Maybe I should be learning from the virtual chores, I need to supply awards and badges, positive reinforcements and recognition of achievements. I guess calling her friends to tell them when she’s finished projects wouldn’t be appreciated by my daughter, though.

     Seriously, I would like comments on your take on this, it’s growing exponentially over on Facebook, and is just the beginning of a greater phenomena. Other examples are ‘games’ like the Sims, or the programmed pets that die on you if you don’t care for them properly. Can we learn lessons from their success in engaging people to apply to real life interactions?

16 Responses to Why are virtual chores fun but real chores a drag?

  1. I’ve never thought about this issue, Roger, but am now fascinated and might even become obsessed with finding the answer. I’m OCD like that 🙂

    Seriously, I’m in the same boat with my teens. I have no idea how to get them to do chores around the house. A simply “thank you,” or “its your responsibility as part of this family” never seems to have an impact. Maybe we indeed need to pass out ribbons for “best toilet cleaner” or “most enthusiastic cat-litter changer.” OK, those are both gross chores, but you get my point.

    Let’s try positive reinforcement and see if it works. : )

  2. ludovicah says:

    Bleh. I put all my Neopets in the Neolodge Hotel every twenty eight days. They live there full time. I’m sentimental enough to book them in every month and not let them starve, but not to the point of actually looking after them myself. My daughter is the same. If I’m really honest though, we both do pretty much nothing around the real house too. I find no chores acceptable as a way to pass time, virtual or otherwise and I think thats gone to the next generation Oops!

  3. What a riot to call those Farmville farmers out into the fields for reckoning. Clearly it’s much easier to sit in one’s living room or bedroom toiling in the orchard instead of actually going outside.

    Interesting idea to give awards so that virtual reality can merge with physical chores. And uproarious idea to call all of your daughters friends to let them know she cleaned the bathroom or plucked out a few weeds from the yard! Hahaha… classic.

    I sure wish this would work. I think trying it out is worth a shot 😉

    • booksbelow says:

      What might work is if I threaten to call my daughter’s friends if she doesn’t do chores! We have reached the age where any contact by me with her friends is an embarrassment.

  4. mfeige says:

    Y’know I’d never thought of this, even though I was the proprietor of a Farmville Farm. But it’s an extremely interesting idea. I had to stop Farmville because I realized I could be doing real life things. I don’t know I wish I had a pony! If I did I would want to take care of it! but that’s just me! LOL


  5. Roger,
    I think you have opened a Pandora Box 🙂 And I’m glad you did. I think there is a lot to be learned from online games (specially those that involve a shotgun and hand grenades).
    Have you seen how some OffL places are offering discounts and free beer to 4Square users? I think that this kind of blend between OnL and OffL (my life is as “real” online as it is offline) will be a something we will have to deal more and more in the near future.
    To make it short (have a plane to catch to Madrid now), establish a rewarding system with your kids, give them something that they can show but think about the naming for it: make it cool 😉
    Great post, lots of food for thought here.

  6. Kat Barton says:

    WOW..great post. Here is my take, and my rule. Your chores not done around the house? You don’t get computer time, xbox time, ninetendo time, or TV. Period. I am the parent. Like it or lump it as my dad would say.

  7. Slickriptide says:

    There IS the not-insignificant factor of Farmville chores being virtual and not requiring any actual physical labor.

    Same reason for spending all day jacking cars in Grand Theft Auto, but not actually doing it in real life. It’s messy and the consequences are undesirable. Just like getting grass stains on your favorite jeans.

    Truthfully – The “badging” system DOES work to a degree. That,after all, is what Cub/Boy Scouts, 4H, and Junior Achievement are all about. Acknowledging short term achievements in an effort to teach and instill a desire to achieve further.

    Given that you actually have a farm-like situation, you could sign your kids up for 4H (there’s almost certainly a local chapter) and get them on an organized “Farmville” program that includes other kids their age.

    That’s one of the other attractions of Farmville, after all – That you can go next door and weed your neighbor’s garden and get paid for it.

    Of course, you could just teach them that Zynga is the Devil and its games are designed to evoke a Pavlovian reflex that keeps the user coming back for a short term reward while making the reward just small enough that the user is constantly tempted to spend real money in an attempt to advance faster than normal.

    That’s what I would do. *heh*

  8. booksbelow says:

    I like the idea of teaching them Zynga is the Devil!

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