In Defense of Virtual Farming
Harvest Moon. Stardew Valley. Story of Seasons. Since childhood, my father has asked the same question: why do you like those games? After all, it's just the same repetitive tasks with no discernible end.
Wake up. Water the crops. Feed the animals. Run errands. Complete tasks for the villagers. Lose yourself in the mines. Eat a plant off the ground? Stumble into bed with hardly a minute to spare. Rinse. Repeat.
On some level, I understand Dad's confusion--what's the goal here? (Well, Dad, I could ask the same thing of your beloved Minecraft, but at the risk of enraging a hyper-specific brand of gamer, I'll refrain from my usual smart-mouthery.)
"It's about the strategy," I'd say, tucking away my Entire Notebook Dedicated to This One Thing.
I mean, I'm not wrong. Farming simulators do involve a great deal of strategy--figuring out what crops bring in the most profit, planning a layout, carefully dedicating time to foraging, fishing, and mining at routine intervals--and I've seen friends* put together binders chock full of spreadsheets in order to perfect their farms.
However, I've also seen friends** convert their farms into Dante's Ninth Circle of Chicken Coop Hell with no observable plan or structure whatsoever and still come out richer than I've ever been in fifteen years of loving this genre.
The real draw of these games is, in my opinion, the wholesomeness--or, the comfort in routine. Sure, you can go crazy and take notes and plan your farm down to the last pitiful pumpkin, but you also have the freedom to just...chill. Cut some grass. Feed a duck. Give your neighbor a jar of blueberry preserves like the farm-to-table fiend you are.
It's about the escape. Is your stuffy, corporate job wearing you down? Does the idea of running away to a nondescript country town and living off the land seem better and better with each passing "per my last e-mail?" Good news: you're mere clicks away from burying your stress like turnip seeds.
There's no denying the fun in completing quests in a role-playing game or joining your friends for a spirited online match in a first-person shooter, but sometimes, the simplest, most relaxing thing in the world is sitting back, booting up Stardew Valley, and watering a stalk of corn.