Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is a role-playing game (RPG) which features the journey of a young man as he rejuvenates the farm of his deceased grandfather. Harvest Moon was produced by Victor Interactive Software and was released in 2000. The game and was made available in different gaming consoles such as the PlayStation and GameBoy. Critics praised Harvest Moon for its fresh take on role playing games. Harvest Moon deviated from the usual RPGs which featured world-changing journeys of heroes and heroines alike. Dubbed as “a different type of RPG”, Harvest Moon gave its players a non-linear experience of managing a farm and at the same time ensuring that relationships with the people of Mineral Town are maintained properly.
I will employ Discourse Analysis to analyze this media text. Specifically, I will use the guide questions Sylvia Estrada-Claudio (1999) used in her essay in Gender Sensitive and Feminist Methodologies.
However, given the broad nature of this game, I will only analyze how romance and relationships was presented in the text. Most of the nuances presented were rooted upon my personal experience in playing the game.
I. What are the concepts and ideas that the text wants to convey? What are the overt meanings? What are the hidden ones?
First let’s establish the main premise of the game. As a child, the main character (a young boy) would always spend his summer in his grandfather’s farm—helping in taking care of the animals, as well as interacting with the kids in the town. Years later, his grandfather dies and he is tasked to take care of the farm. Upon his arrival, he sees that the farm was stripped of its former glory—with weeds dominating the farm lands and not a single chicken, cow, or sheep grazing the fields. The town Mayor then informs him that he will be given one full year to rejuvenate the farm to its former glory. The Mayor stipulates that beyond the farm’s progress, the young man’s interaction with the villagers will also put into consideration. The Mayor tells him that if he is not successful in his mission, he will be asked to leave the farm and it will be taken over by another individual.
The young man is also presented as an eligible bachelor in the game. Through this, the importance of establishing romantic relationships is conveyed by the text. However, let’s first look at the eligible bachelorettes in the game that the protagonist can woo:
|Anne is the daughter of the owner of the local village restaurant. She is presented as a bit of a tomboy and takes after her father’s passion for cooking. She has a specific liking towards a guy named Cliff.|
|Elli works at the local clinic as a midwife. She also assists the village doctor. Her work with the doctor develops her romantic inclination towards him.|
|Karen is the daughter of the owners of the local Supermarket. She is characterized by her serious demeanor and seemingly cool vibe. She is close with Rick, a person who works in the local village poultry.|
|Mary is a shy girl who works at the local library. She loves reading books and develops a fascination towards a guy named Cliff.|
|Popuri is the daughter of the owner of the local village poultry. Her brother, Rick, is very protective of her. Popuri has a fascination with a guy named Kai, a sailor who goes to the town every summer.|
From the data mentioned above, it is clear that the text elucidates that rivalry is an inevitable part of finding a relationship with someone. In the game, if the character does not manage to woo anyone, the bachelorettes will eventually marry the main character’s rivals. There is emphasis on finding relationships (and even contracting marriage) in order to gain a certain level of happiness. The figure below emphasizes that the player’s points is also dependent with him contracting marriage.
Marriage is then constructed as a tool to gain a semblance of economic leverage, or in this case aid in the completion of his farm. It is worthy to note that this aspect in the status screen only appears when the main character contracts marriage. The game takes place in a relatively quaint town with a population of less than 50. In this regard, the text elucidates that in a small social network, finding romantic relationships is an inevitable part of gaining economic and emotional currency.
II. What are the claims to romance and relationships (knowledge/expertise) that this text is making?
In terms of finding relationships, the text claims to be an expert in gauging the feelings of the bachelorettes. When talking to the bachelorettes, the player will see a heart attached to the dialogue uttered by the girls.
The heart level starts with black, indicating a semblance of indifference. The heart level summarily improves by interacting with the bachelorettes. Interaction can range from talking to giving gifts which match the preference of the girl. The player then has to figure out the likes and dislikes of the bachelorette in order to increase the heart level. Being there in important events of the bachelorette (i.e comforting her when you see a confrontation she had with her loved one) also increases the heart levels. The final level, a red heart, indicates that the bachelorette is ready to marry the main character.
The idea of heart levels indicate that the game claims that there remains to be a continuous struggle to woo a person who piques your interest. It is worthy to note that a single mishap in interaction with a bachelorette can demote the heart level—and it will take a significant amount of communication and gift-giving in order to increase the demoted heart level. The development of romance, as the text claims, is only contingent upon the guy’s desire and presence to get to know the girl. What are hidden in the process of wooing are the girls’ efforts to make the relationship work. To this end, the expertise that the text is making is only presented in a one-sided light—the image of romance building is not holistic as the text would want to present it. The guy is presented as the controller of the girl’s emotion whereby the girl just receives the efforts laid down by the guy.
III. What discursive strategies can I see in the text that reinforces its claims to romance and relationships (knowledge/ expertise)?
There are several discursive strategies employed by the text which elucidate its one-sided claims to romance and relationships. First, let’s look at the manner by which the women communicate with the main character upon contracting marriage.
The figures below emphasize that the man capacity to decide in the marriage:
Secondly, before marriage, bachelorettes who have red heart levels are presented as totally consumed with the presence of the guy when the player chooses to converse with them.
The figure below highlights a flushed reaction that a bachelorette with a red heart level has:
Lastly, upon proposal, there is a level of self-doubt that a would-be fiancé has. Self-doubt is brought about by her character, and not because of the guy’s.
The figure below highlights a level of self-deprecation that a bachelorette has upon being asked to be married.
IV.What form of consciousness or subjectivity is the text imposing?
When nuanced to relationships and romance, the text imposes a skewed notion of a successful relationship. A successful relationship, as manifested by the text, is always under the control of the man. The man makes every decision which contributes to the success of wooing and to the success of the marriage as well. It is evident in the text as well that the man is presented as a silent-type of guy where his responses aren’t exactly shown. Because of this, the text ascertains that successful relationships can be built by a linear type of communication between the two individuals. It is ironic as well that while the main character is a silent-type of guy and the bachelorettes are relatively more outgoing and talkative—decisions in marriage (even naming the baby) is left to the man.
Successful marriages are also constructed as a man being the sole providing of income and the woman being stuck in the house to cook dinner and take care of the baby. Even the idea of sacrifice is heavier on a woman because they leave their houses and families when they contract marriage. Their careers are put on hold just because of marriage. While the text emphasizes the bachelorette’s unique skill set, the skill set is then reduced to domestic tasks upon being married. The wife is only seen in two places in the house upon marriage: the kitchen and the bedroom. Quite frankly, this offers an essentialist and stereotypical view of gender binaries especially when marriage comes into play.
As a kid, I grew up playing this game almost every day of my summer vacation. The thing is, the conventions presented in the text didn’t seem too wrong to me when I was playing it in my young age. Every game’s end goal—which is to achieve and gain a sense of success truly clouds an individual’s judgment in critically analyzing the messages that these games bring.
Harvest Moon, much like Sims, tries to simulate nuances of life. However, in the processes of mirroring social realities, games such as this inevitably present skewed representations of people. When games are part of the socialization process by which kids take part in, the identities solidified in virtual reality may become normalized as a legitimate perspective that a kid may grow up with. In this regard, it is vital that we continuously remain critical of the games we let kids—and even ourselves play on a daily basis.
Estrada-Claudio, Sylvia. (1999). Discourse Analysis, in Sylvia H. Guerrero, Ed. Gender Sensitive and Feminist Methodologies: A Handbook for Health and Social Researchers. Quezon City: UPCWS