Socializing in Simulation

I’ve admitted in the past that I enjoy a good sim game. Games like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory are relatively recent entries into my gaming experience, but I’ve found that they relax me and are great ways to relieve some stress after a rough day. Recently I picked up Story of Seasons, which is basically a Harvest Moon game but without the brand. Playing it has been pretty fun, but it has got me thinking about one aspect of sim games that has never actually advanced in any way: socializing.

If you’ve ever played Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, Story of Seasons, etc, then you know how making friends works. You can talk to people every day and very, very slowly become friends with them. Or you can give them presents every single day and you’ll suddenly be their best friends within the month. Falling in love is easy when you can hand a lady a grilled fish every day and she’ll be totally enchanted. It’s a system that has barely changed in more than a decade, and it’s the one part of the fantasy farming simulation genre that feels incredibly stale.

I’m speaking mainly from the perspective of one who has played Story of Seasons, because this game is a step in the right direction in almost every other way. Farming is more streamlined so that the work goes faster and makes more sense, shipping requires you to be more strategic, your character can be customized in both appearance and in wardrobe, and even the land itself can be shaped to your will for convenience and aesthetic appeal. The series has taken steps forward in every way except for the tired old system of giving people crap until they love you.

This is frustrating for a few reasons. For one, in a world where games have advanced to allow full-blown conversations in games like Skyrim or The Old Republic, it seems like a waste of technological potential for characters to only say the same four sentences all the time. For two, real world conversations don’t work like this. Of course, these games don’t realistically emulate real farming either, but conversation is the one place where a touch of realism could make a positive difference.

Something I heard about a lot in college was this idea of the 5 love languages. It’s popular in Christian circles but is perfectly applicable to non-Christians as well. Basically, the idea is that everyone can be categorized into one of five main ways that people experience love. Every person feels loved (either platonically or romantically) in different ways, so knowing how you communicate love and how your friend or lover receives love can really make a difference in your interactions with each other.

The five methods of showing love are words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, giving of gifts, and acts of service. Words of affirmation are encouraging statements that build up the other person. Physical touch doesn’t just mean sex and kissing, but can also be friendly gestures like back pats, high fives, and hugs. Quality time is time spent in the same place together engaging in conversation. Giving gifts is the act of presenting the other person with a present. And acts of service covers doing helpful things for the other person. For each individual person, certain things feel more like being loved than others.

My personal love language is quality time. If I don’t spend time with you in person, having meaningful conversations and not just casual workplace discussions about the weather, then I don’t feel close to you. Quality time is how I connect with people. Now I communicate love in this same way, but that isn’t always the case. I’ve known people who felt loved when physical touch was involved, but who expressed love through gifts or acts of service.

So what do love languages have to do with Story of Seasons? Well, every single person in Harvest Moon land apparently shares the common love language of receiving gifts. No one cares when you talk to them over and over again. Encouraging words are never a factor, particularly not in platonic friendships. There aren’t some bachelors who want to jump right in with physical touch and some who want to take it slow. Everything happens for everybody in the exact same way, which is not only unrealistic but also frustrating as the player.

In my opinion, the farming sim genre has done a lot to make strides in the farming aspect of the games. So the next step for these games is to improve the social mechanics of the game. Being able to “go steady” instead of jumping straight from friendship to engagement; being able to hang out with friends, or plan dates to go on; different characters having different ways to make friends with them instead of everybody wanting presents all the time; all of these kinds of things would absolutely advance the genre in a positive direction.

What do you think? Are the social game mechanics of simulation games important? Or would making those mechanics more detailed take something away from the game? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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