Games are a fun way to pass time. But many games are too short and not very exciting in their second playthrough. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at games, that are “binge-worthy”. We talk about games, that we can play over days without end. Today, we start with farm live simulations. What makes passing time on a farm as in Stardew Valley so special, fun, and appealing?
The success story of combining a farming simulation with a role-playing game started with Harvest Moon in 1996 for the SNES. While other management games focused on building cities and other RPGs made you fight monsters, Harvest Moon let you live a peaceful life as a young farmer. Getting up at 6 in the morning, sowing seeds, watering plants, reaping crops, feeding cows, chopping wood. It is strangely satisfying and immensely relaxing to repeat this process near every day.
It is especially relaxing, since you as a player decide yourself how much work you want to bring upon yourself. When I played Harvest Moon 64 for the first time, I was satisfied with a few crops, a sheep, and a cow. Half of my land was empty. There are no bills, that relentlessly drive you to squeeze out every bit of profit. However, if you get bored, there is always more work that you can do – and people you can visit.
The social aspect is quite important for all farm live simulations. You are not a lonely farmer, you are part of a community. As I have described in Living on the Clock, there is a village full of people who live their own lives on a daily schedule. During the day, you can talk to the local baker, librarian, or priest at their workplaces. In the evening, you can meet them on a leisurely stroll through the town or at the local bar.
Of course, you can marry and start your own family! Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life even puts special focus on your family life and simulates it in multiple stages. Over the course of a life, you, your family, and the rest of the villagers become older, until you pass away and hand down your farm to your child. While city builders like Cities: Skylines are very impersonal, in farm live simulations, you get to know people.
While other RPGs focus on combat and destruction, the Harvest Moon series focuses on the constructive aspects of live. Unfortunately, the series has stagnated in the past years. Recent trademark disputes have not helped in this regard, even as the developers now publish their series successors under the title Story of Seasons. Fortunately, there are other spiritual successors to the genre.
The Rune Factory series added some spice to the peaceful farm live with combat. Instead of buying farm animals, you can defeat monsters in caves and befriend them – similar to the Pokémon game series. You can keep them on your farm like conventional animals or they can help you in your harvest. The series has also expanded its story telling. The more boss monsters you beat, the more secrets you reveal. Akin to conventional RPGs, there is always a threat to the peaceful lives in games of the Rune Factory series.
The current champion of passing time on a farm is Stardew Valley. Since its debut in 2016 on PC, the game has been released on all current platforms including iOS and Android. The game extends the RPG aspect with a skill system and branching specializations. The social aspect is mature compared to other games and does not shy away from social commentary. Most characters have a multi-layered personality and getting to truly know everybody can take multiple in-game years. By now, it is even possible to cultivate your farms with other people in online or LAN multiplayer.
If you have days to spend and are tired of saving the princess, try passing time on a farm! You can decide what you grow and which animals you raise. Take a break from the noise and stress of a city. Enjoy the song of birds, the burble of streams, and the visible progress of constantly growing crops. It is a peaceful life.
What is your favorite way of passing time on a farm? Share your experiences in the comments below! I look forward to reading them. In the meantime, I will feed my ducks.
(Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash)