With school back in swing, here’s a tip for parents to think about as they watch their little wonders pass the time on their electronic devices or at the family computer.
One of my co-workers asked me the other day if I knew that Farmville — the insanely popular online game that lets you build up a virtual farm — costs money. Yes, it’s free to get started, but if you want to take short cuts to get where you want in the game, you can make a quick payment by credit card or PayPal.
I’ve never actually played Farmville, nor really wanted to. (In fact, long ago I hid all Farmville-related posts that would otherwise have shown up in my Facebook feed.)
But the idea of paying cash for a game popped in my mind when I downloaded from iTunes a free game — City Story — for my son to play. It’s similar to Farmville, except that instead of, say, growing vegetables and selling animals, you add houses, businesses, infrastructure and amenities.
I installed the game for myself, and have found myself checking my progress a bit more often than I would care to admit.
You earn “coins,” as it were, by making things in the factories you build, and by being what they call social — that is, you “clean” the houses and properties of other people playing the game. Don’t worry, it’s not hard — just a tap on your phone. Hopefully, others will reciprocate, which means you benefit from their acts of kindness.
If you play the game casually, you’ll move up, earning enough to add new buildings, plan new streets, and learn a little about urban planning. New goals become unlocked, new rewards come on offer. But if the nice-and-easy approach doesn’t work for you, you can skip the virtual coins and plunk down the real ones.
When my 10-year-old asked about how he could increase the cash symbol on the game, a little bolt struck me. He’s not aware, yet, of what PayPal is, and I don’t think he knows what our credit card numbers are. I really hope he would never do anything so foolish as to tap those numbers into anything.
Yet, I’ve seen enough over the years to know those kinds of things — accidental or otherwise — can certainly happen.
In something as innocuous as City Story, a common upgrade (like extending the grid of your city) could cost you $20. No wonder the game is free to download!
So, when City Story offered the option of permanently disabling the option to purchase cash credits, I took advantage of it.
And that’s today’s lesson, parents. If your kids are playing a game — even if it’s a free download — keep an eye on those ancillary charges. Like a cellphone or a room in a hotel, it’s the extras that can make your eyes pop.
Elsewhere this week
Until I knew better, I used to think Jackson Pollock’s splatter-centric paintings were kind of weird. Eventually, I read of how Pollock used a precise system of patterns that eventually would capture the attention and respect of mathematicians. Even if Pollock’s work isn’t your cup of tea, I challenge you to resist creating your own dripping style here. I also wonder if you’ll notice yourself creating one pattern after another.
For some all-out fun at the computer keyboard, this one’s hard to beat. Various beats, bleats, cymbals and synths can be sounded, with each assigned to a key. A little typing and … your own cacophony. Guaranteed to get a giggle from the kids.
John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue. Empire Avenue: gushue.