The avatars among us | Craig Groshart

“Come look at this,” my wife said pointing to her computer. “It’s your farm.”

“I don’t have a farm,” I said.

“Yes, you do,” she said. “See. The little farmer even has your face.”

And she was right. That was my face on the little character on “FarmVille.”

Apparently, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a farm. Thanks to my wife, there I was standing in a field of growing crops. At least my avatar wasn’t blue.

“If you have a farm, you can be my neighbor,” she informed me. “The more neighbors I have, the more things I can get for my farm.”

It doesn’t matter that I don’t play the game. She’s more than happy to play for me. (Note to self: in next life, don’t let wife know your Facebook password.)

FarmVille is only one of many virtual reality games that people can participate in through Facebook. There also are Mafia Wars, Mobsters 2, FishVille and Farm Town – all of which let you enjoy an alternate life via your computer.

Maybe enjoy is the wrong word. The goal of Mobsters 2 appears to do as many muggings, robberies and inflict as much general mayhem on others as possible in order to move up in the mob. My wife and kids are avid players.

FishVille, as you might imagine, lets you collect fish – and, of course, take care of them.

There, in a nutshell, is the problem. It seems that those playing the games never really can get away from them. There’s always something to do in order to advance in the game.

In Mobsters 2, my wife is always looking for another caper to do. Unfortunately for her, it’s not a one-way street. The other morning she was upset to discover that overnight her character had been beaten up dozens of times by a player far higher on the mob food chain.

When she sent him an online complaint about beating her up all the time, he gave her this obvious advice: that’s the way the game’s played. And so it is.

If that weren’t bad enough, many players (my wife included) go on to others’ sites and help them out. In FarmVille, that can be harvesting their crops, raking leaves, giving them farm buildings and farm implements. My wife also cleans other players’ fish tanks. Again, it all goes to move you up and along in the game.

It seems innocent enough, but the virtual world more and more is bumping into the real one.

“Are you hungry for dinner?” my wife asked the other day when I came home from work.

“Not starving,” I said. “How about you?”

“I’m OK,” she said, “but we have to eat dinner either before or after 8:20.”

The reason? She had scheduled that time to harvest crops on FarmVille. Apparently, if you don’t do it when they are ripe, they begin to spoil and you lose FarmVille dollars.

This has spread to my family, too. The other day my son thanked me for sending him so many neat things in Mobsters 2. I hadn’t, of course. Again, it was my wife. She also has our son’s password for Facebook so she can go on his site and help him out when he’s not around.

Equally bad, the other night my daughter was on my computer, loading some extra Facebook programs on it to make it easier to play the game. This, again, at my wife’s urging.

I’ve tried to get clever and even changed my Facebook password. Doesn’t help. Your new password is sent to your e-mail account and, of course, my wife knows that, too.

I thought I had found the answer. A service, which launched in late December, lets you “sign out forever” from the social-networking services Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace by having it go through your site and, friend by friend, deleting your connections one at a time via a script.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she didn’t find it funny at all. If I wanted to see what dying was like, she said, just try deleting my virtual life.

Even my avatar was smart enough to get that message.