A Queer Narrative as Told by Farming Simulators and What Stardew Valley Means to me

My first exposure to Harvest Moon came when I got Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for the Gamecube. I went through the introduction sequence, they gave me my first cow, who I named "Betsy" and a dog with floppy ears. I  clumsily ambled through the game in the most economically inefficient way I could have, raising cows, sheep, ducks, chickens and eventually a goat. Later I ended up viciously neglecting that goat after it stopped producing milk, not my proudest moment.  But it was okay that I didn't know that it was far more beneficial to focus my farm around crops. In Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, the only use for money is to reinvest it into crops or into buying more animals anyway.  Eventually, I set my sites on starting a family.

 Credit: Marvelous

Credit: Marvelous

Harvest Moon is a weird kind of game. Half of it is about growing your farm and maximizing profits but, then there's another half that's about starting a family. In A Wonderful LIife, You bring one of three girls a flower every day (or something else), read her diary to see how much she likes you. When you've given her enough flowers or, you know, you marry her and have a kid. I chose Nami, the redheaded drifter with trust issues. It was a beautiful wedding with the longest unskippable cutscene ever (I definitely didn't try to skip it.) I was happy with my choice of bride. Muffy (the blonde) kind of sucks and Cecilia is very nice and boring. But, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with my virtual life, the pretty active imagination I had kept hitting a brick wall. I didn't want to play as a man. It broke my sense of immersion. I couldn't help but hope that eventually I could play a Harvest Moon with a woman PC.  So when Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town came out for the GBA, I was ecstatic.

When I actually started to play, I fell into the farming, foraging and mining with great ease. More Friends of Mineral Town is a great game but, again with Harvest Moon games, farming is only half of the point. The money I was making I invested back into my farm. I got a bigger barn and chicken coop and then I turned my attention to my home. After getting the double bed, needed to unlock marriage, I realized I had a problem. I didn't want to get married. 

 If you're wondering, it was Ellie, second from the left with the apron

If you're wondering, it was Ellie, second from the left with the apron

The entire time I was building up my farm, I was  also giving thought to which bachelor I would seduce and I was at a loss. Where Nami had practically reached out of the screen and slapped me as clearly the best bride, none of the boys were doing it for me. I wasn't interested in their stories and I didn't really care for their designs. I was most interested in the bachelorettes, notably, Ellie. I ended up settling for Grey, the shy and brooding Blacksmith but it didn't feel right.

 I was having issues with these life simulators and romance, specifically, because I am a flaming Queer with no interest in cis men, romantically, but I didn't know it yet. There was no way I could have applied that logic to a game.

I struggled through this conundrum for years of installments into the series. As Harvest Moon started including the option to pick a male or female PC, I often found myself trying to play as a woman and then getting annoyed with the bachelors.

I'd restart and finish the game with a male PC. But I appreciated the choice. I didn't confront the reality of what my predilection for playing male PCs meant until 2006 when the first Rune Factory came out. Rune Factory doesn't actually give you the option to play as a woman and oddly, I felt relieved. 

I could just do what came naturally. When I realized that was what I was doing, I remember pausing. Why did dating women come naturally? I wrestled with that until I realized that I'm Queer in more ways than one. I put words to what I had known about myself since 2006. It was then that I desprately wanted a farm sim where I could play a character similar to myself.

 I saw every sprite and portrait change happen.

I saw every sprite and portrait change happen.

In 2013, through my search for a more inclusive Farming Sim, I discovered a game, which many of us know today but was just starting development. That game was Stardew Valley. From the start Concerned Ape said his game was going to have Queer characters, characters of color and a fully customizable PC. I followed Stardew Valley for 4 years, month by month. When it was released, I cried while I was using the character creator. There were so many options.

I was able to play Stardew Valley and RP the way I wanted, with fewer boundaries than ever before. Stardew Valley is an important game in that way. Where Harvest Moon confused me as a child and imposed heteronormativity on its players, Stardew Valley fully embraces Queerness. In the last year Stardew Valley has seen more success than any single installment of Harvest Moon can boast. People have logged hundreds even thousands of hours and still find ways to maintain interest. So I hope this trend of Queerness affects the developers and writers of the Story of Seasons (Harvest Moon).