It’s fascinating how we gravitate towards gaming over work. I’m not talking about simulators that recreate real-world professions, but about vibrant, experimental endeavors where the act of striving for results is built into their very design.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is all about creating our perfect island paradise, making sure to check in every day to gather resources and play with the economy while greeting residents who rely on our presence to keep trucking. Stardew Valley focuses entirely on making a living and building relationships, which arguably means more than just getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life that acts as the game’s swagger. I want to raid dungeons for loot and grow the biggest pumpkin in existence that can sell for loads of gold prev. I want to be rich, a fantasy that real life has not yet let me experience.
Even Cult of the Lamb, an indie hit that’s still capturing the imagination of millions, focuses on a gameplay loop of performing the same tasks over and over to build your reputation and become a stronger and more prosperous deity. We’re in this for the grind, but the fact that work is gamified in such an engaging way means that the whole idea of tackling it outside of our regular work lives isn’t a big deal at all. If anything, we actively embrace it and want to see more of it in the games we play.
We’re noticing this trend more and more, and while it’s been that way for decades, Stardew Valley changed everything.
Harvest Moon, Minecraft and Animal Crossing existed before the arrival of ConcernedApe’s masterpiece, but Stardew Valley would modernize the formula and achieve a cadence of country life that could draw you in for hundreds of hours. The central focus of the game is work: becoming a farmer capable of growing crops, raising animals and delving into the mines in search of countless secrets. Every action rewarded us with something, and we all know that when it comes to real jobs, that’s not always the case. Video games that focus on work don’t shed light on mundane reality, instead choosing to drown us in euphoria. To show what happens when you work hard in the middle of an environment that is willing to pay us back. Stardew Valley absolutely nails that potential appeal.
A daily routine only further cements this job description, as players establish their own internal behaviors and habits to ensure they get the most out of each day. Watering crops can be time consuming and energy consuming, so it’s best to automate the process, while tending to all the animals on the farm is also a chore. Keep your hay stocks full and all you have to worry about is collecting eggs, milking cows and shearing sheep.
All things that became second nature as we make regular visits to the city to flirt with our loves and sell things at the local store. Stardew Valley always showers us with little drops of serotonin, keeping us engaged with meaningful steps that tempt players to invest just one more day before ending their session. Unless you spend your real life dedicated to a job you admire, being able to find fulfillment in a game like this is the next best thing. The public wasn’t the only one to realize that potential with Stardew Valley, countless developers were also inspired by its success.
We are only now beginning to see this evolution take place. Games like My Time at Portia, Spiritfarer, Hades, Moonlighter, and I Was A Teenage Exocolonist interpret the work in a similar way. Many of these are fantastical experiences, making us strive to build a reputation in the underworld, help lovable animals cross over to the afterlife, and be a lovable homosexual in a fledgling colony in the farthest reaches of the universe. The work on these cases is fantastic, but always based on expectations that we associate with the real world. Things are expected of us, energy is dispersed to make money or build ourselves as people, and there is a clear cost to consider when things go too far. Everything matters in some way and therefore we buy into the fantasy.
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist might just be the most moving example of video game work we’ve seen yet. You start the game as a little kid, but are quickly encouraged to start putting in the effort in a colony that needs everyone to cooperate, or it all falls apart. There is time to rest, of course, and the narrative actively encourages time away from hard work to avoid burning out or losing its spark, but work is constantly at the forefront. Thematically, it opposes profit-seeking, but recognizes the value we derive from successful careers and creative passions, which often take precedence over material gain. You earn money to spend in this game, but you rarely need it.
Each day you wake up and are asked to spend the next month attending a series of classes, helping deliver supplies, or maybe even venturing out into the wild to hunt animals for resources. Earn money and experience in exchange for your work, while building relationships with those who work alongside you. Everything leads to something, but the consequences of being part of this archaic system are explored in the narrative, and even contradicted when the capitalist systems that brought the Earth to its knees threaten to resurface in this new attempt to build a home for humans. . the race.
It’s fantastic and often I had to seriously think about where my time was going and if I was building a worthwhile destination. You must have studied for years to pursue a career in Engineering or Life Sciences, while the local garrison will not dare you to accompany you on patrols without proper training and experience. It takes the role of work in game design a step further, making it a cumulative aspect of your character with narrative and mechanical significance, rather than a linear progress gauge that spits out rewards.
Pursuing a certain career can cause you to lose friends or distance yourself from family, while there may come a time when your expertise saves lives and changes this colony for the better. We buy virtual work, and the game is much stronger because it recognizes that investment and actively expects to criticize the role we play, regardless of the path we choose to take. Even in our hobbies, we are chained to family vices.
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist knowingly draws inspiration from Stardew Valley, yet not only incorporates those systems into its identity, but also questions whether a passion for work, even in a fictional sense, has the potential to diminish our value as human beings. . . It’s the next logical step in the way this medium approaches things, and to see it approached with such emotional nuance shows that Stardew Valley set something pretty remarkable in motion.
The world isn’t getting better, and it’s not working to keep us alive either, and seeing video games tackle how we seek to lose ourselves in the imaginative equivalents of real-world routines and habits is morbidly fascinating and poised to teach us a lot. .
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