Games these days are all about making big decisions and watching the repercussions. Whether it’s a split second tactical misstep in Rainbow Six: Siege that costs your team a highly contested match or a game of Civilization in which you decide to research Pottery instead of The Wheel and end up ten turns behind your opponents (okay, okay – it’s been a while since I’ve played Civ, so that analogy might not be great).
These games do function as escapism, but sometimes they end up feeling more frustrating than satisfying. I’m starting nursing school in just a few months, so my anticipation/anxiety is, obviously, through the roof. I have a to-do list of several things I need to complete beforehand – immunizations, visits to my physician, and so on – that progress feels so slow, and the end goal is so far off that I am not getting resolution any time soon. For this reason, it seems like I have been migrating more and more towards games that are less weighty. Farming Simulator 17 is at the top of my list right now.
The game itself has a lot of depth. There are probably hundreds of different tractors with various attachments in the game, and many different tasks the player can complete to create a fully functioning farm. You can travel around town, selling crops and doing odd jobs for local landowners for extra cash on the side. There are, of course, several different crops, but FS17 also added animals to the mix.
While deep, the consequences for failure are low. In FS17, it’s possible to drive right through pedestrians with neither vehicle nor pedestrian worse for wear [this seems like a missed opportunity for the eventual “Disfiguring Farm Accident Doctor Simulator” spin-off -ed.]. Crashing a tractor or truck means that it will instantly right itself. There’s an off switch for features like crop withering and equipment repairs, allowing armchair agronomists to focus solely on cultivating, harvesting, or sowing the fields. It’s a game that injects just the right amount of realism and lets the player decide what they want to make of it. For example, you can take it easy or go crazy focusing on the economic aspects, maximizing profits and running the farm with ruthless efficiency. Players can overload the game with hyper-realistic mods, creating new and more difficult challenges, however, the game never suggests that specific direction.
Unlike Stardew Valley (one of my favorite games of the past few years) or the recently released shop/dungeon game Moonlighter, there’s no violent mechanic like Stardew’s enemy-filled tunnels. It’s entirely possible to ignore the farm all together and simply get paid to harvest or fertilize the crops of others using their own machinery. You can even hire someone to work on your farm and ride along with them as they do the work for you [we call this “having kids” where I come from -ed.].
Simply put, the game feels meditative. You can slowly progress through tasks without worry and no fear of death or game over. I was surprised how satisfying this grind is. I found myself associating in-game tasks with real life challenges in a way that made them have less overwhelming weight. It provided some type of separation between my conscious self and these long and short term goals. Provided I stay focused, things will get done in time and life will move on. That’s the hope, anyways.
Games are often touted for their creativity, technical accomplishments, and artistic merit. Reviewers focus on mechanics that make the game have more emotional resonance and thus feel have more to say about the general human experience. There’s a good reason for this. The best of the best generally make the player think, or show them something about themselves or others that they hadn’t realized. That said, games rarely simply pat you on the back for a job well done like FS17 does. You aren’t instantly given another objective marker on the map to follow. There aren’t hundreds of quest or collectible icons on the map that simply need to be explored. There are no dialogue trees here, and you won’t have to choose whether or not one character dies and another lives. It is a game where you can truly make your own experience without worrying about violence, major decisions or negative consequences.
I believe there exists a place in everyone’s Steam library for a game like Farming Simulator. It’s a game that is incredibly well made and fulfills the promise of its title. The stakes are low, and the number of farming related vehicles are gloriously high.