This morning, I received an email from the National Genealogical Society (NGS) about their new partnership with the Facebook game Family Village. You can read the complete announcement here.

My Family Village. It’s a mess work in progress.

Some of you may know that I have recently ventured into the world of Family Village. A couple of weeks ago, I read a press release about how Family Village had come out of beta testing and was ready for prime time. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve had a addiction to healthy interest in gaming since the day my father brought Pong into our home, and I’ve spent many a quarter at arcades back in the day when you actually had to go to an arcade to play games. But since Family Village is genealogy-related, I gave myself a pass to try it out. Here’s what I found:

The Cons:

  • Like life (and most other online games), everything in Family Village costs, in one way or another. The two main types of Family Village currency are coins and dollars. Coins are fairly easy to earn, but dollars are severely rationed. The only way to earn dollars is to either “level up” (you get 1 whole dollar each time) or buy them with REAL dollars. And here’s the catch: you can’t finish certain “missions” (tasks handed out by Sally, the fictional neighbor who seems to run the place) without… say… adding a police station. And you can’t finish the police station without buying bars for the jail. And you can’t buy bars for the jail without… you guessed it: dollars. You can’t “immigrate” ancestors to your village without earning “village points.” And how do you earn village points? By adding homes, decorations, roads, work places, etc., to your village. Which comes back to my original problem of needing those dollars. Ok, yes, I get it that the creators of Family Village have to earn a living. And I’ve been seriously tempted to just fork over the credit card and buy those virtual dollars so I can get on with my virtual village life. But I’ve restrained myself. I suppose it’s a good lesson in economics, but I’m not playing Family Village for fun with economics. I’m about the genealogy.
  • There isn’t that much to do. Basically, the plot of Family Village consists of 1) building your village, which includes chopping trees, busting up rocks, and adding buildings, 2) immigrating villagers/ancestors, 3) collecting “rent” and “wages” from the buildings you already own, 4) going on “missions,” and 5) helping your neighbors by collecting their rents/wages, chopping their trees, and busting up their rocks. Missions come up from time to time, but you can only have 4 active missions at one time, and if you’re waiting on the almighty dollar so you can finish your police station and immigrate another ancestor, you’re kind of in limbo. There are only so  many trees you can chop.
  • I’m not convinced that it’s entirely secure. After all, Facebook is well known for its security blunders, so can a game played in that venue be very secure? Granted, you could make up fictional ancestors and no one would be the wiser, but that sort of defeats the purpose, no?

The Pros:

  • It’s a semi-mindless way to unwind while still being connected to genealogy. It’s not hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of mental effort. Ok, sometimes I have to look up an ancestor’s information, especially when I’m tired. But if you’re too exhausted even for that, you can always enter the name and add the rest of the information later. Or never. Your choice.
  • I enjoy seeing what others have built in their villages. There are some amazing builds out there. Brian DeGraaf: seriously man… wow. Level 38?!
My mother’s “museum.” Pathetic, isn’t it?
  • You can add family documents to each villager’s “museum.” I haven’t actually done this because I already enough trouble keeping up with my real genealogy database. But you can do it if you want to. 
  • If you have real life family members on Facebook who also play Family Village, you can opt to share your documents or your entire family tree with them. I currently don’t have any family members on Facebook who also play Family Village, so I haven’t tried this feature yet. (And yes, that’s a not-so-subtle hint to my real life family members on Facebook.)
  • Family Village finds historical events that happened on your birthday and adds them to your museum. So far, it has only done this for me and no one else. Actually, I think I recall seeing something about having to buy this feature for each villager, so that’s probably why I don’t have them.
  • It’s oddly amusing to watch your “ancestors” walk around going to work, chopping trees, tending the farm, etc. My “grandmother” and “great-grandmother” work at the local library, and I giggle at seeing those two little gray-haired ladies waving at me as they turn book pages. And the little guy I made to look like my “father” bears a remarkable resemblance (sorry, Dad). He works at the farm with my “daughter,” which my real life daughter finds hilarious.

Which brings me to the biggest “pro” (for me, anyway): my daughter enjoys it. I even let her name the village after herself. She unfortunately seems to have inherited the gaming gene from her mom, so Family Village is a medium to which she can relate. She loves seeing “herself” walk around on the computer screen, and she actually seems interested in knowing who the “ancestors” are. In fact, I overheard her talking to her stuffed animals the other day, telling them all about ancestors. As a genealogist-mom, that’s worth every virtual penny.

Personally, I think this partnership is a brilliant move for the NGS. It’s a terrific opportunity to bring non-genealogists into the fold and introduce them to genealogy in a non-threatening, gaming environment. You can build a genealogy “database” without the intimidation of a genealogy database. Plus, the Family Village game now has a link to a special Family Village welcome page on the NGS web site, which is loaded with great tips for the beginning genealogist. Some of these may even be useful for the more seasoned genealogists among us, so even if you don’t play Family Village, be sure to check it out.

So, perhaps this is your chance to get Aunt Susie to play along and share some of her family history knowledge. Let’s face it: she already spends entirely too much time on Facebook playing Farmville and Hidden Chronicles, so what’s one more game? And while Family Village probably won’t get your teenager on the genealogy bandwagon, it seems to work pretty well with the younger set. Let your little ones play along, and I’ll bet they’ll be hooked!

What are your thoughts on Family Village and/or the partnership with the NGS?

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Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal
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