From the dawn of the computer age, games have been a staple of the programmer geeks who make computers run. In the process a lot of geeks founded software companies to make millions off the games.

But given the propensity of game developers toward rock ’em, sock ’em adventure, the mind boggles that in the four months since its introduction the most popular online computer game on the entire planet has been FarmVille.

While you were despairing of getting your corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice out of the fields during the late summer/fall monsoons, some 60 million people — from young kids to metropolitan sophisticates to senior citizens — were spending hours daily tending crops and livestock, and coping with the myriad of enterprises, crop failures, and other events in the virtual world of FarmVille.

And the game’s owners, a San Francisco startup company called Zynga, were raking in millions from advertising on the site and sales (for real money) of digital tractors, farmland, crops, livestock, and other assets. A 30-person staff is busily working to expand the game’s capabilities (and presumably, its profitability).

In a nutshell, FarmVille players are given a piece of land to farm as they wish. Money they earn from crops and livestock can be used to buy inputs, equipment, and other assets.

FarmVille is linked to the wildly popular social networking site Facebook, which makes it possible to work with (or compete against) friends. Players can also send each other “gifts” of trees, animals, and other assets.

The more people farming, the more bucks for Zynga. Although one can play the game for free, one can also spend hard cash to buy more equipment or inputs. “One recent success,” notes BusinessWeek, “was digital sweet potato seeds that cost $5 a packet (and) … pulled in more than $400,000 in three days.”

While one could quibble that real sweet potatoes aren’t grown from seeds, one can’t argue that 400 thou from imaginary yams sure beats four ways to Sunday growing the real thing.

The world’s media have been awash with stories about the addictive nature of the game. Articles have suggested, noted an LA Times piece, that FarmVille “is roughly as enslaving as heroin. Users report missing work, abandoning friends, and setting their alarms to wake up several times during the night so they can make the moves necessary to advance in the game.”

And this in a New York Times article: “I can’t hang out with my friends without talk of apple fields and rice paddies,” said (a University of California student). “I have to wait for my friends’ soybeans to grow, because we can’t chill until they’ve been harvested.”

In FAQs about the game, we are told a day in FarmVille “is currently 23 hours long” — just 1 hour shy of a real farmer’s workday.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com