At the end of last month, Stardew Valley, an indie darling inspired by the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games, released to high critical acclaim and plenty of downloads. This pixelated farming simulator borrows Harvest Moon’s main formula – grow crops, raise livestock and get married – and refines it into a game that creator Eric Barone hopes evokes the feeling of playing the series’ classic titles. While it has succeeded to strike a chord with both longtime fans and newcomers to the farming simulator genre by going back to its roots, it also adds new elements to the mix, including the option of same-gender relationships.
In general, Harvest Moon really hasn’t had much to say on LGBTQ issues. You pick a boy or a girl to play as, and then you find your match for a traditional heterosexual marriage. In the girl version of Harvest Moon DS in Japan, you could have a “best friend” instead of a husband, and you even had a “best friend” ceremony to uh… declare your friendliness. Then live out your days on the farm, just two gals being pals.
More recent entries in the franchise have given players a loophole to exploit wherein both gender choices can wear any clothing item or hairstyle, presenting a wide range of gender presentations, but the game still uses the pronouns and terms to refer to the original gender you chose, making this option less than ideal for transgender people who would prefer not to be misgendered.
Ironically enough, I think it was Harvest Moon’s strict adherence to heterosexual options that influenced my non-heterosexual orientation. After a long process of self-examination, it turns out that I prefer to date women, and I think it’s games like Harvest Moon 64 that influenced this. From the GameCube’s Harvest Moon: Magical Melody onward, the ability to play as either gender in the same game became a series staple, but previous titles either released separate games for each gender or only gave you the option to play as a boy.
I mainly grew up on Harvest Moon titles that expected you to play as a boy and court women, so by the time it was possible to play as a girl in the United States, it was something I was used to. In fact, even before I figured out my identity, I always felt torn between the option to play as a girl or marry one of the bachelorettes, who I always found to be vastly more interesting than their male counterparts.
However, I don’t have to feel that inner conflict anymore, because thanks to Stardew Valley, I can have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to comment on the implications this might have on farming simulator games in Japan, but I do know that it’s a big deal to have a game in the genre where you can love who you actually love that so many gamers are buying and playing.