Welcome to November! Our weather here in the Pacific Northwest went straight from blisteringly hot summer to frozen ground and rain. Though the rapid climate shift left my head spinning, the cold, crisp air has me craving apple cider and pumpkin pie, which are perfectly in theme with this month’s roundtable: harvesting.

Harvesting has different connotations depending on context, so I’ll let the fine folks of Sidequest decide what direction they want to steer this conversation. No matter where you are in the world, I hope this month brings you warmth and comfort and relaxation!

When you think of harvesting, what games come to mind? Aside from Harvest Moon, as it’s right there in the title.

Melissa Brinks: I’m currently playing Township, a trashy mobile game in the vein of Farmville where I do a lot of harvesting, but it’s not at all interesting and is just a way to pass time when I’m waiting five minutes for something else to happen. There’s all the obvious farming simulators—in my case, Stardew Valley—where finally harvesting something you’ve been tending to for in-game days or weeks comes to fruition.

But are those what came to mind for me? No. What came to mind was Bioshock. In Bioshock, you can “harvest” the ADAM (for the sake of simplicity, it’s mana/MP/juice that lets you do cool magic stuff) from genetically modified little girls if you’re a heartless sumbitch or if black-and-white morality makes you prone to contrarianism. I actually love that the word “harvest” can feel so—dare I say it—wholesome as well as so disturbing depending on the context.

Ennis Rook Bashe: I’m absolutely dating myself here, but I have such fond memories of the berry-harvesting mechanic in Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, the first entries in the Pokemon franchise I ever played. Gathering rare berries along my journey, carefully tending and watering the trees until berries sprouted, the rush of adrenaline when a berry saved my strategy in battle… just like gardening in real life, it was a case of hard work paying off.

Zainabb Hull: Like Melissa, “harvest” is frequently more disturbing to me than wholesome, and the first game that comes to mind when I think of harvesting is Forget Me Not: My Organic Garden. It’s a clicker game where you’re harvesting organs from trees to sell to an eclectic variety of visitors. I appreciate this game because it has an extremely morbid narrative but it’s presented in a cute style and light-hearted tone—organs that are ready to harvest sparkle on their tree, and you can buy various critters to improve your garden’s efficiency.

Cress: Right now, I’m thinking of Harvestella (feels like I’m cheating haha)! After the demo I went ahead and bought the whole game. I’ve been pretty hooked on it! There’s my pretty little farm and while I have some gripes with some of the mechanics, the look of the veggies and food is very scrumptious! Making the food in game has pushed me to try cooking new recipes. So far I’ve only made eggs benedict with too-runny hollandaise sauce.

Night in the Woods lives rent free in my mind this time of year as well. As Mae, a little cat and a college dropout, you wander your hometown of Possum Springs. Fall is in full swing as you piece together old relationships from high school. The laid-back tones of the music ease you into this reframed nostalgia. I think most who come from a smaller city or town can relate to the awkward feeling of going back. You get to participate in the town’s “Harfest” as the very cool WITCH DAGGER! I guess this is not harvest in the traditional sense but the town festival based around those old traditions hits home for me.

Michelle Caldeira: I feel like Stardew Valley is such an obvious answer as to be expected by all. However, I actually hate it so much that I make it totally automated in the late game and I reap my Cheese and Mayo for quick cash everyday. I look at harvesting and farming in general as more of a means of sustenance than the main focus, a quick side thing to make money or resources. That’s also how I see it in Animal Crossing or, well, everything.

Are there any games where harvesting feels particularly well explored?

Melissa: Maybe calling it “well explored” is a bit of a stretch, but A Bewitching Revolution immediately puts the apples you harvest into baskets for the community. You don’t have a choice, not because the game is wrenching control from you, but because why wouldn’t you share them with the community? You can’t eat all those apples yourself! There’s no reason to sell them for profit in the society you’re trying to shape! Apples grown in the community space are apples for everybody, so they bypass the middle step and go straight into the community baskets. Lovely.

Zainabb: I just want to echo what you’ve said, Melissa! That was one of my favourite aspects of A Bewitching Revolution, and it’s a radical departure from what we expect from most games that focus on growing and harvesting crops, like farming sims. In games that really consider each step of this process, like Stardew Valley, the player is usually expected to sell food for profit. I have, in fact, bounced off several farming sims (including Harvest Moon) where it’s just been too difficult for me to figure out how to make enough money to survive. Look, that’s just real life under capitalism, I don’t really want to have to struggle virtually, too. A Bewitching Revolution has an alternate vision of the world; one where food is grown and shared ethically, and there’s no need to strategise the best ways to make money because everyone already has what they need to live.

Cress: Forgive me for mentioning Harvest Moon again, but in older games like Friends of Mineral Town you could do experimental cooking. This meant you could try to use the tools you had with random ingredients in order to produce a (hopefully edible) meal. It made the work I did at growing crops feel more special because I could try using real-world knowledge to create a dish. For a similar reason, I enjoyed the cooking in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since I got to forage for ingredients and see what would happen. It even added flourish to some of the basic meals depending what you put in. I love it when games allow you room to practice with your hard earned cultivars. Gives me a more realistic feeling of homesteading.

Standing nearby trees with the Temple of Time in the background, Link leans over a fire pit with apples. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo, 2017.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo, 2017

Thinking more broadly, what’s your favorite “you reap what you sow” moment in a game?

Ennis: I’m not a “farming simulator” type of gamer. I prefer action and drama over cozy gardening or picking flowers—for instance, I might be the only person in the LGBT community who has no interest in Animal Crossing (or at least that’s how I feel looking at my friend group!) However, I have to give a shoutout to the Botanist profession in Final Fantasy XIV. I got into it during winter 2020, when I was at a stressful internship and trapped inside by East Coast weather. Exploring the beautiful forests of Gridania looking for gathering nodes—and holding my breath as I waited to see if I’d get lucky and obtain the item I was looking for—took my mind off my problems.

Michelle: Ennis, I’m more of a fisher in Final Fantasy XIV than a farmer—mostly because the barrier of entry to fishing is significantly lower than farming. (Farming requires an apartment which is at least 40-60 hours in game and 500 thousand gil.) But it’s interesting that you mention Final Fantasy. I have to be very careful with FFXIV (or, well, clicker games in general). My ADHD means I only have two times, “now” or “not right now,” so if I’m not careful I can set an alarm for 9am because I have school at 10am, start saying, “15 more minutes and I have time to walk” and then it’s 4pm and I haven’t done anything. However I know plenty of people who craft, gather and or do anything but the main story quest and just play that way.

There’s actually an interesting point I want to mention with Stardew Valley and Final Fantasy XIV, in that both have farming, gathering, or harvesting early on but if you want to progress in the content you will need to advance a storyline of sorts. It reminds me of how we had a discussion on sidequests (ha) last month. For someone who just wants to fish and or plant beans (and I have caught over 14,000 fish in FFXIV) the storyline is more of a distraction than the appeal. It feels more like, well… side content. Not the game unto itself.

And with farming, well it sucks if crops die. With my ADHD I have been telling myself to check Animal Crossing turnip prices since Monday and I have yet to do it (and it changes daily), so crops dying if you don’t check on them IRL… well I guess that was my issue with games like Farmville or berry planting in Pokémon.

Tangentially… I love Euro jank simulators. So yeah, I have played Farming Simulator.

Melissa: I’m going to take a wildly different tack and bring up Red Dead Redemption 2—this will contain spoilers, so skip my answer if you don’t want the mid-game twist and the end of a lengthy questline spoiled for you! The “Money Lending and Other Sins” questline is one on which the narrative turns. [Editor’s note: No, really, skip to the next answer right now.] Though the player character, Arthur Morgan, loathes fellow gang member and loanshark, Leopold Strauss, he still has to shake down Strauss’ victims—uh, clients—for the debt they owe, for story, mechanic, and getting-to-Tahiti reasons. He hates it, but he does it, and in the process of collecting on a debt, he gets a bit of blood in his mouth, contracting tuberculosis. This sets off Arthur’s crisis of faith later in the game, which players can use to lean into lawlessness or finally set him on a more moral path.

But that’s not what’s interesting about this questline—it’s that late in the game, when Arthur is sickly and the Pinkertons are closing in on the gang as everything falls apart, the payoff for all this usury is… perhaps not worth it, but certainly gratifying. Arthur, depending on how the player chooses, can forgive the final debt he’s meant to collect or forgive the debt and pay the debtor a good chunk of money on top of it. Better still, even if you pay her more, she doesn’t forgive Arthur, saying, “I just wish you’d done it before he worked hisself into the grave,” and suggests that he do things differently in the future, eventually closing the door on his apology without responding. Arthur’s a dying man with nothing left to lose, and he lets Strauss have a final piece of his mind, kicking him out of camp with the command to “get a job.” Is it enough to erase all the harm Strauss dealt to people? Of course not. But god if it wasn’t gratifying to shoo that slimy asshole out of camp like the snake he was. If it had been up to me I’d have left him as penniless as his victims to truly make him reap what he’s sown, but late-game Arthur has money to burn and a softer heart than I have, apparently. Let the wolves take that bastard, I say.

Cress: In the larger scope, I think of Algus from Final Fantasy Tactics because he basically kicks off Delita’s path of conquest. All throughout chatting with him, he’s constantly condescending to anyone “low-born”. He’s clearly our foil, used to recognize the classist system that’s propped up by nobles, which includes you! So after so much of his bullshit, being able to finally kick his ass in combat is SO satisfying. The remaster on the PlayStation Vita blessed us with a bonus dungeon which has, I kid you not, zombie Algus. Even the developers saw how much hate he had and said, you know what? You can kill him a second time, as a treat.