I can’t speak for the whole of Sidequest, but when I feel the first day of crisp autumn air or see the first morning with a dusting of frost, something changes in me. The transitory seasons are where it’s at, in my opinion, and while games may not have mastered the art of pumpkin-flavored everything or the itchiness of spring allergies, they nonetheless have done a pretty good job of exploring the beauty of seasonal changes. This month, we’re talking about gaming seasons—the literal and the figurative.

What game do you find has the best seasons? Bonus points if you don’t say Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing.

Zainabb Hull: So maybe it’s cheating a little because it’s frequently compared to Animal Crossing, but I logged onto Cozy Grove at the start of September to find all of the leaves going gold and the wildlife starting to change, and it made me really happy. That shift from summer to autumn was always my favourite as a kid, but thanks to climate change, we don’t really have seasons in London anymore so I particularly appreciate the reliable season changes in games like Cozy Grove or Stardew Valley.

At the moment, though, my favourite game for this is Red Dead Redemption 2. I don’t think it technically has seasons, but it does have beautiful weather changes and distinct geographical regions that come with their own microclimates. It’s not the same as seeing one landscape change throughout the year, but it gives me the same sense of moving through time and nature that seasons used to provide when I was younger.

Melissa Brinks: Cozy Grove is distinct from Animal Crossing—I award you full bonus points!

Maybe it’s because I’d been editing our playthrough of The Quiet Year when writing these questions, but that has to be my answer. I think in this game you only feel the seasons in the typical way if you invoke the details yourself, but thematically, the seasonal shifts really clicked for me. We started with hope and promise in spring, but that doesn’t mean we were without threats. As time passed, those threats compounded, abundances and scarcities waxed and waned, and we could really feel the impending doom of winter and the havoc it could wreak on us once it arrived. While we may not have seen the color schemes or had the opportunity to pick different crops, I feel like The Quiet Year really excelled at the thematic connections between the seasons and what was happening narratively.

Cress: I’m always a sucker for Harvest Moon and games like it *wink* for all the joys of simulating an idyllic life. For me, though, I remember Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Besides the usual fun you’d expect from our classic adventure/puzzle solving franchise, the mechanic of changing the seasons was added in using the rod of seasons. Do you need to travel across a lake? Switch to winter and freeze it! The path is blocked by boulders? Autumn will change them to mushrooms!? It was such a joy to test out the power in different locations to reveal paths or hidden secrets.

Do you find yourself drawn to certain games or types of games as the seasons change?

Zainabb: I’ve noticed that I really enjoy playing long, open-world games in the autumn and winter, when I’m able to bundle up under loads of blankets and it’s darker for longer in the mornings. There’s nothing more comforting on a cold weekend than bringing in the sunrise with whatever RPG I’m currently taking my time with. My seasonal affective disorder hits again once the weather starts to change in the spring, and by summer I’m functioning significantly less in the humidity and the heat. For that half of the year, I prefer to tackle shorter indie games in my backlog where I can feel like I’m making progress more quickly and obviously than with an RPG. I’ll also turn to some tried-and-tested flare games for self-care and distraction on the bad days.

Melissa: I will forever associate Red Dead Redemption 2 with being extremely sweaty in summer heat. Part of that is because it took me ages to beat it, but another is that I feel like I have more time for games in the summer, when the days run long. Long games like that are more enjoyable for me when I play them for an hour or more at a time, so I associate them with summer. The same is true for The Sims—the moment the average temperature hits 75+ (that’s hot for this Washington state resident), all I want to do is put on a lo-fi beats playlist and while away the hours watching my digital people go about their lives.

In the fall and winter, when it’s football season and I graciously allow my husband to use the TV, I like curling up with my Switch and returning to old favorites—Hades, Battle Chef Brigade, and Stardew Valley being some of my most frequent choices.

A screenshot of Arthur Morgan standing and looking over the creek below Beaver Hollow.

Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar Studios, Rockstar Games, 2018

Cress: It’s getting closer to Halloween! So, I always think this time I’ll play through a true survival horror game, but I end up getting too scared. During winter, I get this idea of playing a handheld game, wrapped in a quilt with cocoa nearby. Now that I have a Switch Lite, I should do so.

Lately I’m getting the urge to dive into old PS2 RPGs. I’d like to dig out my old PS3 to start going through the years of backlog. A friend lent me Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts 2 since I recently finished Koudelka. Maybe I can make my cozy gaming vision a reality this year.

Many recent games, especially free-to-play ones like Fortnite, feature a different kind of “season.” Have you ever played through one of these seasons? What do you think about this model?

Zainabb: I’m pretty sure I’ve only played one season-based game, the free-to-play version of Fall Guys. I, uh, don’t think its first season has ended yet, although I couldn’t be certain because it took me ages to understand what a game season is (my partner played Fortnite for several months after the pandemic started so I became familiar through osmosis). I’m not a fan of the model, although I’m glad that at least Fall Guys and, from what I could tell, Fortnite seem to still be perfectly playable with only cosmetic items requiring purchase. Nonetheless, the structure is deliberately designed to be addictive and, given that it’s mostly children playing these games, that feels super icky and inappropriate, especially since some argue that loot boxes in games like these are essentially a form of unregulated gambling.

Melissa: I have to be honest: I have no idea what a game season is. I vaguely remember it being a thing when I played Overwatch, but I feel like I greeted each season with surprise! Like, “Oh? A new season? OK, time to play competitive for three rounds, then get angry and bounce!” I was never aware of when the season changed or what it really meant from a gameplay perspective other than that I had to redo ranked matches.

Cress: This reminds me that I should try to get Sam in Death Stranding a little Santa hat.

When I played Fire Emblem Heroes I aimed for the seasonal gacha pulls. During these times there’d be special themed versions of popular heroes and new maps with a little side story. I paid a little more than I’d like to disclose for Halloween versions, especially for Niles.

Which game is guaranteed to cure (or at least ease) your seasonal depression?

Zainabb: I talk about it all the time, but it’s true—ever since I got it, Cozy Grove has been my number one gaming companion when depressed (both the regular and seasonal kinds), sick, flaring up, whenever. If my bodymind ain’t working properly, it’s Cozy Grove time.

But I want to give an honourable mention to Kentucky Route Zero, which is perhaps a strange pick for easing depression, but it’s just how I feel, okay? I love the soundtrack, the visuals, the sucker punch to my emotions. Sometimes you just need the misery you feel deep within your soul to be recognised by the games you play, you know?

Melissa: I’m lucky enough to not experience seasonal depression symptoms (just the regular ol’ minor kind for me!), but I will say that our long, rainy winters here in the PNW can get me down from time to time, especially when I look outside and wish I had flowers or vegetables or literally anything other than dead brown plants growing in my garden. For that, I have Stardew Valley! Gardening in a game may not be as satisfying as gardening in real life, but planting, picking, and selling my goods scratches the part of my brain that loves to see things growing.