Virtual farming is growing in online simulator communities

Norwich computer game designer Alastair Aitchison using Farming Simulator 3. Photo : Steve Adams

Norwich computer game designer Alastair Aitchison using Farming Simulator 3. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

It may not seem the most logical way to relax after a hard day working in the fields. But a growing online community of Norfolk farmers are spending their spare time playing on virtual farming simulators, according to a Norwich-based games developer.

Alastair Aitchison runs the Norfolk Game Developers' Group, a collection of 220 students, programmers, hobbyists and professionals.

He said agriculture was already well-represented throughout the history of gaming, in virtual civilisation and conquest games like Settlers and Harvest Moon in the 1990s, and more recently in the hugely popular block-building world of Minecraft.

But he said the latest version of Farming Simulator 2015, developed by Swiss company Giants Software, has attracted a significant following among those who actually make their living from agriculture.

Mr Aitchison said: 'We are aware that there are people in the farming community in Norfolk that play this game, and they are probably people who would not normally be playing other games.

'You do get actual farmers coming home from work and putting their headsets on to play a farming simulator, which does seem strange.

'I know pilots who come home and get on a flight simulator. People might not see farming as being as exciting, but why should it be stigmatised? It has got millions of pounds worth of machinery, and the tractors are driven by GPS. There is a lot of technology involved, and the players take a lot of pride in tweaking their modifications to get the best yield.

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'But farmers have been quite shy when we reach out to contact them. I don't know why. I would be interested to see if EDP readers are more keen to admit they play it. We do know they regularly meet up with each other in the game on their headsets. It is like an after-work club and there will be members of that group from all over the world as well.'

The simulator uses realistic graphics, licensed branded models of real-life machinery and controls allowing players to plough and harvest crops, with a 'career mode' which allows them to market their produce and accumulate profits to improve their holding in a bid for economic success.

'I know from feedback that a lot of it is surprisingly realistic,' said Mr Aitchison. 'It's a good game. I enjoy playing it.'

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