The best and worst aspects of farming simulators
Farming simulators have been around for decades with popular games coming from AAA companies as well as indie game developers. I previously wrote an article on how these types of games can help with mental health issues such as anxiety and ADHD, but today I will discuss the best and worst aspects of farming simulators (according to a survey, anyways). I’d like to state that by ‘worst’ I simply mean what aspects players indicated that they disliked and their suggestions for improvements.
Best aspects of farming simulators
Let’s start with what players feel are the best and most enjoyable aspects of farming simulators. In my previous article, I discussed how and what aspects of the games help with anxiety and these tend to be the same as what people enjoy about the games in general. There is a general consensus that they are simply relaxing and elicit feelings of control, but let’s delve a little deeper into that.
There are a few different reasons for why players find farming simulators so relaxing which is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the games. There is little pressure to do anything in a certain amount of time and very little punishment for not achieving something quickly. Sure, an faint and maybe lose some money and items, but there’s not much more than that. You can’t really ‘lose’ at a farming simulator according to the game’s standards. Of course, everyone sets their own standards for themselves so they might ‘lose’ in their own mind, but there aren’t generally high stakes in farming simulators. Additional relaxing features include the music and the adorableness of the animals and characters. These combined with the low stakes can put a player’s mind at ease.
Several players also indicated they love the simplicity of farming simulators. The goals are rather clear-cut and easy-ish to work towards. Easier than some action-packed games, that is. This is of benefit to those who are less experienced gamers or even have physical limitations such as low hand-eye coordination. For someone who has little to no experience gaming, farming simulators can provide a great introduction without the anxiety inducing interactions in games like Detroit: Become Human (which I very much loved, but them QTEs are STRESSFUL). The simplicity here also helps people ‘zone out’ or ‘turn their brain off’ which ultimately allows for that relaxing feeling after a hard day, particularly for those with anxiety or ADHD. The repetition in farming simulators is rewarding, provides a routine, and is very satisfying, aspects that we are sorely lacking in real-life due to the pandemic. The variety of tasks means there’s always something different you can be doing. You could farm, fish, mine, interact with villagers, explore, the combinations for the day are endless. This ‘task completion’ is extremely rewarding, even for things that take ages to accomplish. Perhaps my favourite quote from the survey:
“Task completion makes dopamine machine go brrrr.”
This is particularly true as there is proper visible progress for your actions. With every new task you complete, there is some way for you to see it. Better crops, upgraded tools, or even heart events with the villagers. It’s more than just a ‘achievement unlocked’ like with many games.
The last thing to note is that a few individuals stated they can live out their dream of owning a farm without actually having to own one:
“They give me a chance to enjoy the romantic notion of living out on a farm without the ecological impact of me bringing all my modern life pollutants with me if it were to happen for real like in traditional suburban development. Another way of phrasing it is that it fills the Thoreau desire within me without harming nature itself.”
“[T]hey let me feel the fantasy of completely restarting my life somewhere with no expectations of me other than taking care of my farm.”
Personally, I love the notion of owning a farm and living off of the food that I grow, but it’s never going to happen. I hate pretty much all vegetables and have no desire to do all that hard work in real-life. However, being able to live it out in a video game is rewarding and gives me a taste of what it could be like.
Worst aspects of farming simulators
The second question I asked players is what they disliked about farming simulator games, but I would again like to state that these are not my personal opinions—they are from a survey of over 500 players. Many of the players actually indicated that there is nothing that they dislike about farming simulators. It seems players share a love for these games and appreciate them as they are. However, there were several aspects that players disliked overall which is what I will discuss here. Interestingly, some of the ‘worst’ aspects are simply the opposite of what some players consider to be the ‘best’ aspects. A game is never going to please anyone, but let’s explore what players deem to be the worst aspects anyways.
Firstly, the worst aspect that was mentioned the most is that the games can get too repetitive which eventually makes them a bit tedious and boring (the word ‘monotonous’ was thrown around many times). For example:
“…the tedium of a routine can get boring. When I am forced to do the same things every day or else I may not achieve my long term goals in an efficient manner the game loses its veneer.”
After a few years of in-game play, there is often times nothing new to do. You’ve gotten married, maxed out relationships with all the villagers, grown every crop you can, upgraded everything, and adopted every farm animal possible.
However, this repetition is a favourite detail for others which I find very interesting. I guess monotony is great for some and not for others. The dialogue with the villagers eventually gets stale (quicker in some games than others), so even their interactions can be no longer interesting. Obviously some games are better at combating the monotony than others, but they ultimately all end up in the same place—all your goals are accomplished and it’s just making more money at some point with nothing to spend it on. While some players appreciate this, many others don’t. They want more to do and feel like they’ve ‘beaten’ the game after a few in-game years. Mods can be a great way to help alleviate the tedious nature of some farming simulators, but many of these games are made for consoles which means no mods. A player in the survey specifically mentioned that they wish more games would also be released on PC as they are more of a PC gamer.
This can then lead into another point that was common in the survey—sometimes the games can be a bit too grindy requiring several hours’ worth of work for one new item. This is particularly true if the grinding is for a less enjoyable aspect of the game (I’m looking at you Stardew Valley and your fishing mini-game). Only being allowed to harvest one crop at a time can eat up a lot of real-life time and can definitely make the game seem too tedious. The harvest with scythe mod for Stardew helps with that, but as mentioned, not all games are mod-able. Many of the players in the survey also do not like the energy bar or timed aspect of the day as the tedium of harvesting one crop at a time can eat up so much in-game and real-life time.
In the beginning of a farming simulator, I often times go to bed in the middle of the day because my energy is simply gone. One player recommended having either an energy bar or a time-limit for the day—having both can be stressful and require a l
ot of planning to accomplish everything you need to in a day. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town definitely suffers from this as their in-game days seem so unbelievably short.
Aside from improving the potentially stale dialogue with the villagers, there were a few other suggestions to make farming simulators more inclusive and realistic. One player requested some vegan options to represent their eating habits in real-life. They don’t want to have to have animals. Additionally, many farming simulators require you to get married and eventually have children, but then these children don’t even do anything. One player stated:
“It would be nice to see your farm be passed down.”
For most farming simulators, you’ve inherited the farm from your grandfather, so it would make sense to pass it on to your own children. Perhaps most importantly, several players indicated in their survey responses that the games need more diversity. More specifically, farming simulators need better representation of LGBTQ+ communities as well as non-white ethnicities. It has gotten better in the last several years, but even now, not all games allow for same sex marriage. Marriage also shouldn’t be a requirement; some people just want to farm and not have to interact with the NPCs. They also pigeon-hole you into selecting a gender. Where’s the non-binary option? Sure, some games allow you to choose your ‘preferred style,’ but let’s be real, they are obviously male and female characters.
Overall, just like any other genre of video games, there are many likes and dislikes of farming simulators. The best and worst aspects of farming simulators are dependent upon the player with some loving the repetition and others finding it monotonous and boring. Each game has its own unique charms as well as areas for improvement. Some are easier to fix than others (adding same sex marriage as an option, for example) while others will require a lot of time and effort on the developer’s part (such as improving stale dialogue). Regardless of what you think are the best and worst aspects, farming simulators can be an idyllic and relaxing short-term escape from the insanity that is our daily lives.