This is a post about an issue I’ve been putting off for a while now. A post about that most inevitable of topics that everyone tries to ignore.
As a gamer who is about retirement age according to most anime, I’m beginning to see the edges of my physical ability fray despite the spirit’s insistence that I can do this thing. I first noticed it when I was playing LawBreakers, and has risen its head again and again through games like Overwatch, Street Fighter V, and Borderlands 2. Games and genres that I was sure I was good at before suddenly become more challenging and more frustrating due to my declining twitch skill. It was actually depressing me to the point that I was worried I was too old for gaming.
Then, on an absolute lark, I decided to try out Farming Simulator 17, and I saw the sunrise.
On the surface, Farming Simulator 17 is hardly what would be called a game in the more common vernacular. You are, quite literally, waiting for time to pass so you can drag farm implements up and down fields in straight lines. More often than not, you fill that waiting time by picking up jobs from nearby fields. Jobs that involve dragging farm implements up and down fields in straight lines. It’s more monotonous of a game than a slot machine.
Somehow that’s the genius of it all, though.
Farming Simulator 17 doesn’t tickle the twitch satisfaction nerve of gaming so much as the measured, relaxed knowledge of doing good work. The fields I harvest or sow don’t really end up arrow-straight. They’re kind of skewed and wobbly, much like the person driving the tractor. Regardless, you don’t feel worthless. You still feel the sense of accomplishment of a job well done. The same sort of accomplishment I’ve felt before when winning some competitive match or beating a punishing level.
The feeling of accomplishment I get meshes with the meditative state of steering a piece of machinery and lining things up. It’s a repetitive activity that soothes and entrances, much like the same sort of calm that people who knit or crochet must feel. The slow and methodical dance of steering a harvester header, the hum of the engine, the casual pace that such impressive, lumbering machines run at…it all combines in to this sort of isolation chamber, where narrow-minded focus becomes mindless and you just know what to do and how to make it happen.
The lack of urgency doesn’t just extend to tending fields, either. Even the act of picking up new equipment or delivering a harvest moves at a measured gait. Hitching my tractor up to a trailer to fill it with wheat requires a sort of precision that doesn’t stress, and tugging a load to a bakery or another farm on the map happens at speeds that would drive commuters behind me insane. Everything about Farming Simulator 17 soothes and lulls me in to such a sense of calm that the speed of my pickup truck becomes alarming.
In fact, making deliveries is like a victory march. Days of work and hours of time culminate in to a cash prize. It’s like slaying the dragon and proudly bringing its head back to town, then being handed a giant sack of gold from the king.
If that was all Farming Simulator 17 offered, then I would probably grow bored after some time, but then you factor in the progression of managing your finances well. In the interest of disclosure, I am running the game on Easy Mode, which means harvests will yield more cash. There’s still a sense of earning things through working and effort regardless. Even better, none of it feels like work or effort. It’s actually a reward.
Eventually, I can buy larger equipment. I can buy the fields nearby and manage them all personally. I can grow my own personal agricultural empire. Or I can simply tend to my little three plots of land and just replace my equipment when it gets too worn out. I could even hop on to an online server and help a bunch of other folks with their chores in real-time. Farming Simulator 17 has more in-game rewards than I had ever expected.
More than that, though, Farming Simulator 17 has felt rewarding in ways that aren’t measured by in-game metrics. It’s rewarded me with a sense that I am in control and that I am welcome.
The problem with most gaming experiences is the imposition of fake stress. You are the only one capable of stopping the evil! You are the one who must face the enemies and divert their attention while others land the killing blow! You are the one that has to help your teammates hold the point! It’s all manufactured annoyance.
Meanwhile, FS17 simply opens its arms and wraps me up in a blanket. It doesn’t force things on me that I don’t want it to. Sure, there are times to fertilize and times to harvest that you need to follow, but none of it ever really enters punishing territory. You’re not being shrieked at, just very gently reminded.
It never rains in my little farmstead. Pedestrians can’t get run over. Car crashes are impossible. Injury and death aren’t a thing. But that just adds to the soothing and regenerative nature of the game. And this game is regenerative. Whenever I’ve finished a session of Farming Simulator 17, I feel recharged. I feel more capable and in control of myself and my abilities. I feel like I’m able to be tested.
And if those tests find me wanting, I run back to my field and I fire up tractors again.
That’s the biggest benefit of Farming Simulator 17 for me: the ability to hit a reset button for myself mentally. It’s such an important feeling that I find it hard to put it in to words, but the closest I can equate it to is squeezing a sponge out. All of the dirty water of past gaming failures vents away, and I’m ready to be put in to the crud again.
I’m still not quite ready to call it quits on gaming, but I’ve been as close to that edge as I want to be. Farming Simulator 17 has talked me out of my insecurities about my age, and has reminded me that gaming can be fun as well as low-key. It’s a retreat that I don’t ever see myself staying away from for a long, long time to come. And I think we all need that at a certain time.