Life is boring.
The meaningless days filled with class or work, the conversations with uninteresting people saying uninteresting things. We’ve all experienced them, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all been those uninteresting people in the lives of others. We encounter the same boring people and repeat the same boring actions. We avoid change so as to stay in our comfort zone, and we become content. So how do we get out of this?
I always found video games as my cure. The more immersed I was in a video game world, the more it appealed to me, the less I thought about the real world. This was incredible to me, and still is. However, I was never drawn to first person shooters of any kind—or action games in general, if the game was purely about the action. I desired relationships. This is often something that gave me trouble in my social circles with other guys, since the warfare-style gaming often appealed to them.
It’s a strange thing, to want relationships in a video game. You know the characters aren’t real, but there’s something exciting about discovering a story from a fictional character. You don’t have to worry about slipping up and saying the wrong thing. You don’t have to worry about how you look in front of them. In fact, you barely have to stress at all. The more interesting, appealing, and forgiving these characters are, the more I am drawn to them—the more I am able to escape into the game world. Many of us experienced the friendly banter between Link and the King of Red Lions in the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. His character made us feel welcome, calmly guiding us through a mismatched world of mayhem. On the other hand, GlaDOS from the Portal series had an appealingly sarcastic tone that gave us the satisfaction of clever humor without actually feeling insulted. These characters immersed me into the game worlds of their respective games and allowed me to escape.
Escapism—a long debated and heavily controversial aspect of video games. Escapism is a heavily criticized concept due to its very meaning: the idea that one can immerse themselves in a game so completely that the real world doesn’t matter for at least a little bit. This is considered by many to be unproductive and even worthless.
This escapism, however, is what many gamers are looking for. Sometimes we just need a break from life, or to experience something new, or to pursue something we would never otherwise be able to pursue but through a video game. There are many games famous for providing us with an “alternate universe” to escape into. Countless MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft and Runescape have been able to suck in players to live a life they couldn’t have otherwise in an action-packed universe full of magic and old weaponry. Calmer, more laid-back games such as Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon have provided many with solace in a village far away from their own homes, bringing to life an experience of a stress-free world where mistakes don’t have heavy consequences.
I never loved intense, grind-heavy, action-packed worlds such as those found in WoW or Runescape. Animal Crossing I absolutely invested an unholy amount of hours in, but its lack of plot or fleshed-out characters always left something to be desired. The characters were fun and friendly, but the ability to build seemingly genuine relationships that developed over time with them was not quite there.
Rune Factory has gone above and beyond both of these genres. It has done a wonderful job combining these worlds of action and peace. It has redefined slice-of-life gaming and battle gaming by combining them into a game that involves both. It has taken the wonderful, calming, social aspects of games such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing and combined them with action, leveling, and skills such as those of the RPGs we know and love. It has masterfully combined the two most common forms of escapism in games, and it has made it very addicting.
This always drew me in. I began playing the series from the very first game when it released. I was extraordinarily young, and looking back on the game, I don’t know how I played it. You had to memorize every villager’s schedule to ever find them. You had to wait a few minutes every morning before you could enter anyone’s shop or house. God forbid you wanted to marry Melody—her bathhouse didn’t open until midday, and you had to wait the same excruciating minutes every single time.
Not to mention, the game gave you little to no direction on how to follow the story or how to woo or befriend any of the characters. It was a faulty, glitchy game with boring battle sequences, a half-baked farming system, and unnecessary waiting times in which you did literally nothing. What kept me going as that eleven-year-old kid who just so happened to pick up that game at an EB Games because it said “A Fantasy Harvest Moon” on it? What drew me in?
The characters did.
Every single character had a unique personality and something new to say all the time. They actually cared about each other, interacted with one another, and built an entire storyline with you. You lived a life with them. You became one of them. I remember going to the general store, and every time you would finish your interaction with the simple shop owner, Camus, he would say, “Thank you for your patronage.” As a kid, I began saying this to my friends whenever I would play Monopoly with them and they landed on one of my properties. I never knew exactly what it meant, but I knew it was something that Camus said after you visited his shop, so it must fit. These characters were complex and enticing. I couldn’t take my eyes away.
Before I knew it, the second game came out a whopping four years later. I didn’t discover this until at least a year after it had released; I saw it sitting on a Costco shelf at a deal I couldn’t beat anywhere. I began playing Rune Factory 2, and I was even more drawn in than the first.
The amount of improvement the series had made in Rune Factory 2 was awe-inspiring. I faced an extreme moral dilemma—greater than any dilemma I have ever faced to this day in any video game (and I have experienced Heavy Rain) on whether to marry Rosalind or Cecilia. Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but having to reject Cecilia was absolutely heartbreaking. She was the sweetest character in the game by far, and wanted nothing but the best for everyone. Although written and programmed by some designers I had never met, I had grown so immensely attached to these characters that their feelings meant everything to me.
I discovered that a Rune Factory 3 was released after it had been discontinued. I frantically looked online, but I couldn’t find any copies for a reasonable price. Every single copy was ridiculously expensive for a single DS game. I visited every GameStop near me, but to no avail. However, I finally found one that didn’t have it, but could get it shipped. I immediately took the offer and put it on reserve. The next few days were filled with my anxiety awaiting the call from GameStop.
It came after I was returning from buying some new furniture for my room. I should have been excited for all my new furniture, but nothing could match my excitement for another installment in the Rune Factory series.
Rune Factory 3 was a riveting adventure of wild characters and dialogue. Every villager was so interesting and compelling. Despite being absolutely ridiculous, from a character who spoke only in opposites to a character who turned into a bird for no apparent reason, every character was so believable. I fell in love with them all, marriageable or not, man or woman. The entire village you found yourself in became your friend.
The release of Rune Factory 4 marked me caring about literally nothing else. I didn’t care about school, or my friends, or my family. I fervently followed the development of the game, and the new localization company for the series. I had many disappointments and heartbreaks in high school, as any of us did, but this game was a release for me. I stayed up until 4 am hoping they would release it that night. They didn’t. As soon as I came back from school, however, there it was, in the 3DS shop. Cue my family not seeing me for days as I sat in my room, playing that game non-stop with my door shut. Every stress, every dark thought, every single worry I had was consumed by a video game with an interesting plot, exciting characters, and a new, improved battle system.
My heart was broken when Neverland Company Inc. shut down. I desperately hope for a Rune Factory 5. Rune Factory 4 was the best-selling game in the series by far and finally broke into a mainstream audience, so I have some hope. I still face fears, anxieties, and dullness. We all do, and we all have our ways of escaping it. Mine just happens to be a farming simulator with incredible monsters and characters.