Guilty Pleasure: Harvest Moon – Why I Keep Tilling Lands
I've never envied the life of a farmer. Early mornings alongside tending crops and raising unpredictable animals doesn't exactly scream "fun." I still can't remember what drew me to rent the first Harvest Moon game. Perhaps it was boredom or the cute anime art style, but little did I know that would be the day an unexpected addiction was born.
That summer of '97 I beat the game four times – all in the name of seeing what various marriage candidates were like. The thrill came from being thrust directly into the American dream: Leave home, make something out of nothing, have a family, and continue to grow (literally) your success. I remember how magnetic the world was when I stepped in, just knowing I could hang out at the bar with the locals, spend my night fishing, or head to the forest and relax in the hot tub. Shaping my story and performing simple tasks, like buying my first cow and that opening up new possibilities for meals (hello, yogurt!), make the game what it is. Each individual piece of the Harvest Moon puzzle is so miniscule, but building around each of those provides something dazzling.
The satisfaction of nailing down strategies to woo marriage candidates, maximize my farm profits, and mating my cows for different breeds is what keeps me coming back. In addition to the townspeople, who always have their own quirks; I never miss an opportunity to chat them up. Their back stories are intriguing - like a daughter watching over her alcoholic father at the tavern or seeing the subtle flirting between the junk shop and flower shop owner.
I often get sucked into the world and daily routine, and can't get enough of seeing my little farm grow from a few crops to full fields and animals galore. Adding in the all the upgrades gives me something to look forward to and watching the house expand with a significant other and child is confirmation that I've made a life. The Harvest Moon games are all about routine, something tiresome in real life, but here it hooks you with the gradual progression.
I've played other simulation games like Theme Park and Animal Crossing, but none of them had the heart, soul, and personality of Harvest Moon. Rather than managing a business or town, Harvest Moon makes me feel like I'm living a life unlike many of its competitors. Part of why it works so well is it's not a single gimmick. Harvest Moon has the business challenges, but at the same time, also offers a warm atmosphere where a calmness envelops me as I strive for new personal in-game goals.
It should be no surprise that since the first iteration, I've gone on to play almost every entry; from the SNES all the way to the 3DS, this series has been with me. The fact that I haven't tired of games that stick so close to the same premise says something. Harvest Moon, though, is that franchise I play, but rarely talk about – a guilty pleasure, indeed. It doesn't make any huge leaps, but remains enjoyable to sit down, relax, and unwind with. I don't want to let go of something that's been like comfort food for the past 16 years, and why should I if I'm still having fun?
Here's where the guilt festers: I'm nearing two decades with Harvest Moon, and yet I still feel embarrassed to admit my obsession. As if I'm not cool if I admit a farming sim can dictate my life. So today, I've finally mustered the courage to let the world know. Yes, I adore these games, and I'm fine simply imagining my life as a farmer. Because I don't like the smell of manure, but I sure do like maximizing profits and winning over virtual denizens in a vibrant landscape.