ZEN AND THE ART OF HARVEST MOON

I don’t recall how or why I had Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the GameBoy Advanced. In all honesty, I have no memory of wanting the game or asking for it. But it is without a doubt one of my favorite games of all time. (Right behind Diablo 2 is Final Fantasy X and then Harvest Moon).

Via a hacked SNES Classic, the double-edged opportunity to play Harvest Moon again reared its head. It’s amazing that I can relive this formative gaming experience, but its also terrifying because of the potential to break the nostalgia built up my head for a game I have treasured so much for so long. What would happen if I tainted all those hours of my childhood by playing it as an adult and finding it boring or dumb? All those car rides in the backseat, spent farming those pixely fields, running to town hoping the blue feather would appear in the market (why wouldn’t they let us be together, Mary? Why??), and digging for ore in the mines of Mineral Town. What if all of that was only worthwhile as a distant memory, now preserved as a bittersweet heartache of a moment gone in a life that has kept moving?

But, as luck would have it, when the music faded in and the title screen popped up with all of the towns’ people - characters I had truly loved as if they were real people - it was like magic.

I found myself, after starting the game and remembering how to play it (I named my farm ‘Doogleville’), following a routine in-game day after day with the repetition of a man that had found his place in life. It’s like my character woke up every morning, ate his breakfast, and went about his day without the slightest shred of doubt that he wasn’t doing the right thing. Every day, 6 am: tend to the crops, feed and pet the chickens, groom the horse, and fish until the town wakes. I get to decide what the story is for my game. I could work to exhaustion mining for all the ore my shipment box could handle or I can slowly clear out my farm and relax; it’s my choice.

There’s a comfortable pace to Harvest Moon that you don’t get from many popular games now, and certainly, nothing that is simply as enjoyable. There’s no fighting, or sneaking through villages to pickpocket strangers, just good old, simple living. You play to make your life in the game better for your character and the people around him, and you can’t help but feel that simplicity transcend into your own life. Why can’t our lives be more like this?

In contrast, you have single-player games, like the Deadpool game (the last game I played all the way through), where you never have a reason to stop moving or kill something. It’s a linear path with nothing but bullets and blood between the beginning and the end. Or you have multi-player games that are all about competition, where you rack your brain trying to control a situation that usually ends up being decided by luck (looking at you, Hearthstone). In these games, you rarely ever hit that moment of Zen where your mind is blank and you're just enjoying playing the game. You're too focused on the story and the bad guys coming at you, or the frustration of your opponent having exactly what they need to counter you.

The beauty of Harvest Moon is that it allows you to let go of yourself and your problems, and just play. You create your own story and play for yourself. Like you used to as a kid. I’m sure other games can bring that for you, but my game for Zen is Harvest Moon. It’s like meditation; my mind clears and I just enjoy playing. It’s a game where I can spend five hours playing and two are just spent fishing.

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