Harvest Moon on the Super Nintendo has always been a staple game for me since late elementary school. I have played this game multiple times and I’m quite fond of it. The only other game in the series that I like more than it would be Friends of Mineral Town on the Gameboy Advance. Yet despite my admiration for this game there is a flaw that, whether done consciously or not, negatively reinforces gender roles in today’s society.
Before I go further, let me clarify that I am by no means a gender studies person nor have I taken any classes in gender studies. This is from a personal view that should be taken with a grain of salt.
Society, though not as big on this as it once was, force men to accomplish three goals in life in order to be viewed as successful. Athletic prowess, economic stability, and sexual conquest. If you do not accomplish all three of these goals, you could be considered a failure. And though I can’t speak for all of my fellow brethren, I know that I fear, to an extent, not being able to accomplish all three of these things (especially the economic one).
Harvest Moon on the SNES embraces all three of these goals very nicely. After all, the game is about a boy growing up to be a man. In the beginning of the game you are a boy who has taken up his grandfather’s run down farm and are tasked to make it great once again. Not an easy trial that’s for sure. While conquering this feat, you simultaneously fulfill the three criteria of society’s man definition In fact, the game’s ending (yes, there is an ending to the game) depends on your accomplishing these three criteria.
First, athletic prowess. At the beginning of the game you are a pretty weak boy. Doing hard tasks like chopping wood and breaking stone can wear you down pretty quick. But as you explore the world and continue to work hard, you are rewarded with magical items called Power Berries. Eating these Power Berries increases your stamina and makes you last longer while doing hard labor. There are ten of them and though some of them can be found doing random tasks, most of them are acquired by doing hard labor. You might find one while plowing the field or inside a stump after you chop one up. As you eat them you become a strong man.
Eating these Power Berries also helps attain your goal of economic stability. You are able to expand your fields, build your house, and obtain stronger and better items. Even without the Berries, you could still obtain economic success by raising chickens and cows. However, the game can be cruel to you by showing that life isn’t always fair. Hurricanes in particular are nasty as they can ruin your farm and make your animals go hungry. It’s up to you to pick yourself back up and keep going forward. Through every hardship you must persevere and become a better man. Don’t look back or else you won’t succeed.
And finally, we reach sexual conquest. Women in Harvest Moon are as objectified as the cattle you raise and the crops you harvest. They are nothing more than a desirable object which you have to tend to as much as you tend your farm animals. Even the women’s privacy is cast aside as you are able to sneak into their rooms and look through their diary to determine how much you like them.
You might say I’m overreacting but this objectifying and simplifying women becomes truly apparent when you marry your sweetheart. In the game there are five potential women to marry, all of whom have their own unique sprites and (relatively) distinct personalities. There’s the barmaid, the flower girl, the mechanic, the farm girl, and the church girl. Boom, individualistic girls who have their own set of likes and dislikes and personality traits.
HOWEVER, this is all toss aside when you marry the girl. Her distinct avatar and personality vanishes and is replaced by a docile wife who looks 30 sprite years older. And oh yeah, the wife sprite is the SAME for all five wives! The only difference is the hair color. I honestly don’t think marriage matters in Harvest Moon since the end result is a partner who is nothing like the woman I wanted to be with. I’m not even exaggerating, all of the wives’ dialogue is exactly the same no matter who you’re married to. The only time your wife’s personality comes through is the end of the game where you spend time with her and that’s like a 15 second clip. Big whoop.
What’s worse is how useless your wife is. Her main purpose is to give you support and give birth to two children. That’s it. She doesn’t help with the livestock or the field, she just sits in the house and makes you meals while popping out babies.
Granted…Harvest Moon is not a romance game. It is a game that has romance in it, but it’s not solely about it. Exploration, harvesting, and animal husbandry are also important factors in the game. But even so, three small changes could have been made to improve the game’s romance.
-Distinct wife sprites: What was honestly wrong with their original sprites?? I wouldn’t have mind it at all if they kept their original sprites. Why do the girls change appearance while the boy remains the same?
-Special wife traits: Each girl in Harvest Moon has a distinct hobby and personality. If this carried onto the wives then this would add a layer of depth to the game. Ann the inventor could give you a cool farming instrument. Ellen the farm girl could feed all of the cattle. The list goes on. If you’re trying to build a certain farm, maybe the girl who you marry can help build that farm for you!
-Unique Dialogue: Oh God, yes! Honey! What’s wrong with you?? You seem so zombie like and dead inside! Where’s the girl that I fell in love with?? Say something that makes me know you are still you!
*Cough* In the end, the women in Harvest Moon are subjected to the game’s definition of what it means to be a man. In order to be viewed as successful, you must have a wife who can cook and bear you children, in other words, sexual conquest. They are not human beings who have equal status to their husband. They are simply an item to obtain.
To finish this off, I would like to say that the Harvest Moon series has improved dramatically since their first game when it comes to gender roles. As more complexity is allowed in more advanced systems, the women evolve into actual characters who retain their personality throughout the game. What’s more, you are now able to play as a girl farmer who is looking to develop a successful farm and marry just like the boy farmer.
What are your thoughts? What are some game series whose gender roles improve (or not) as the series progressed?