Saturday, July 13, 2024

Story of Seasons let me reimagine my homophobic, rural childhood

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, and many people have left cities, or plan to. Think pieces ask, are cities over for good? This craving to escape urban life is not new – Escape to the Country is a long-running daytime TV staple – but seems to have accelerated, in a year in which we have been largely confined to our homes. Among this climate, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town was released in July 2020. 

The city will always be a place of liberation and community, for LGBT people. I grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland – in a homophobic, inward looking community. It wasn’t until I moved to a city that I started to become myself. My experience is a common one – most LGBT people in rural areas have poor mental health.

In January 2021, I was starting to struggle a lot more mentally. I am single and live alone. I am autistic and have ADHD. Lockdown felt like it might never end. As some sort of gay, poorer version of Bridget Jones, I’ve read a lot of self help the past year. Getting in touch with my inner child sounds ridiculous but has helped a lot with depression. I remembered how my Game Boy Advance had stabilised and improved my moods a lot as a child. So, with a mix of savings and Christmas money, I bought a Nintendo Switch.

It would be my first return to Nintendo since age 14 – over a decade ago. Browsing the Argos games selection, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town immediately jumped out to me. As a teenager, I had played Harvest Moon. After finding out that you can marry and have same-sex partners in Story of Seasons, this had to be the first game I played on my Switch.

Story of Seasons is one of several farming RPGs. The games are collaborative and open ended. In Story of Seasons, your grandfather has died, leaving you his farm, which you stayed at once as a child. You leave an unidentified urban life, alone, to take over. Over the course of the seasons and years, you develop your farm (such as by growing crops, buying livestock or fishing), and integrate, with at times mixed success, into Mineral Town. One of the core goals of the game is to find a partner, who you can marry and have a child with.

Although as a queer person, I have found a lot more happiness by leaving my childhood rural community, there are things I miss. Waking up on a Saturday to the crow of the rooster and collecting warm eggs from my brother’s chickens. The fresh air and living among nature. How everyone knows each other, so everyone looks out for each other. In theory – if someone is too different, for a tight knit, homogenous culture, they are likely to be shunned.

There is no homophobia in Mineral Town

Returning to Mineral Town, I found acceptance in a version of rural life that was so opposite to that which I had lived. There is no homophobia in Mineral Town. Marrying Jennifer, at the town Church, when my childhood Church opposed same-sex relationships as ungodly, felt especially emotional for me. I will never be able to marry where I grew up, but in Mineral Town a small, rural, gay wedding, can be a reality.

A move from Belfast to London led me to grow more comfortable with not being straight. I identified as bisexual for a few years, to January of this year, when I realised, I am gay. Story of Seasons played a big part in this. In early January, I had a Zoom date with a woman, which went well. It seemed that the depth of emotion I felt for women was so much more natural and healthier than how I connected to men. Depressed and frustrated, that we could not go on a proper date, for who knows how long, I sought solace in Mineral Town. The safety and routine of Mineral Town is comforting. Although a range of heartaches and pains are experienced by the characters – this is in the past. Death, grief, and struggle do not exist in the queer utopia provided by Mineral Town. In stark contrast to life in lockdown, life is communal and calm. 

Realising I’m gay, has led to improved mental health, and fewer physical health issues. For the first time, I can imagine a future that can be more than, living alone and being single, forevermore. I used to be fiercely opposed to marriage and family. In Story of Seasons, I discovered a longing, I never knew I had. After many “lost years”, of suppressing and denying my lesbian self, and a range of grim to traumatic experiences dating men, this lockdown feels especially hard. My virtual wife, and queer life, in Mineral Town, provides a way to live the future, I long for.

In March 2020, I left London for Doncaster. This was largely due to living costs, and I’m glad that I did. I rent alone in a 2 bedroom house, paying what I once did to rent a box bedroom in a shared flat. I have my own yard. Story of Seasons led me to buy seeds, and I look forward to planting some real crops! However, my heart still aches for city life. I hope to eventually return to city living. Story of Seasons and other farming RPGs, such as Stardew Valley allow me to live a queer, rural fantasy. I remain sceptical that the reality of countryside living could be so accepting and liberating. 

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