Today I received information about a new experience in family history. I am a somewhat reluctant user of Facebook. I recognize its value, but don’t really like the idea of living my life in public online. I have several family members who are crazy about it. I have watched many individuals while away hours of time at Farmville (a game where individuals create virtual farms and grow virtual crops). I have played many online games and video games in my life, so I understand some of the addiction, but I have not really understood the fascination with Farmville. The news today is that there is a new Facebook application called Family Village. Family Village is a Facebook game that has some features of Farmville, but aims to teach individuals a little about their ancestors and help them get started with family history research. The vision statement on Family Village says, Funium is a young startup company. We have a dream that Family Village will become one of your favorite games on Facebook, leading you to an understanding and appreciation that we are all part of one great connected family. Our first Funium game, Family Village, allows you to discover unknown ancestors and interesting facts about each one. In Family Village, you’ll build out your actual family tree, and then immigrate those family members into a village you design. In your village, you assign your ancestors jobs to earn money for your town to grow. You can buy homes, cars, pets, and decorations from the time in which your ancestors lived. You can even buy monuments that show off your unique ancestral heritage. As your village grows, Funium will be working behind the scenes to find family connections and interesting documents such as newspaper articles, yearbook photos, census records, marriage records, maps and many other interesting items that will allow you to know much more about your family. You will be able to save these documents in your library and share them with other friends and family as you wish. As you play the game you may discover previously unknown family members from past generations or relatives that might live down the street or in some distant land. This is just the beginning. We have many more features we’ll add as the game grows with millions of happy people discovering family members and unique historical documents. It is interesting to watch as those engaged in family history work to try to increase participation from a broader audience and help them get engaged in family history. Family Village has compelling elements to it. It rewards you by adding family members. Players earn coins by having their family do jobs. The more of your family added the more coins can be earned and the faster the players can purchase more things. The idea is a fun one and the game is somewhat engaging. The screen design on the game leaves something to be desired, in my opinion. Often the things I want to do are covered up. I am also always skeptical of the privacy claims on sites like this. The site claims to want players to learn about family history, however, my time in the game leads me to believe that there will be a lot of motivation to simply make up family information to earn game coins more quickly. If players do this then the software will be unable to link them to documents or really teach them family history principles. The game is interesting to me because the team at FamilySearch that develops training is continually trying to find new ways to engage beginners. Family history can be very daunting for the beginner and finding ways to attract them and help them find success is an important initiative for us. We have been moving down the path of more simulation activities (the Inferential Genealogy Course and the Courthouse Records Course on FamilySearch are good examples). Several times we have talked about a family history game as an interesting way to perhaps teach about family history and engage a younger group. While Family Village is an interesting concept, I am skeptical about whether it will accomplish the objective. It seems too game focused to encourage the behavior of entering real family information. The fact that it is online and in Facebook, where users have concerns about privacy add to the likelihood, in my opinion, that false data will be entered. If false data is entered the opportunity to engage the player in real research will not be realized. I do, however, think that Family Village is on the right track. A game oriented simulation activity will, I believer, have more likelihood of attracting novice users. A simulation system, like this could become, may be able to teach family history more incrementally. Both of these outcomes will be good for family history. I wish Funium well in their journey to find a game environment that helps to engage and educate on family history. If you are a Facebook user, it is probably worth a try to see whether it engages you. I think that Funium is beginning an effort that will ultimately engage more individuals in family history. It may not be their game that does it, but if not, then I think they are sowing seeds that others may reap in the future.
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