Three Proposals, Two Weddings, and One Cow

Farming, flirting, and failure in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley

If the main character is not engaged by the end of the first in-game year, either Celia, Muffy, or Nami will spontaneously propose to him, depending on who has developed the most affection. If none of them like the player, then Celia will propose by default. If he refuses this proposal, the game ends.

—"Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life,” Harvest Moon Wiki

The year is 2005. It’s your birthday. For the three months, you’ve been asking—no, begging—your parents for a Nintendo GameCube. But no dice. You blow out the candles and politely thank all of the friends who attended for their gifts. And then your parents bring out three more presents, one large and two small. Your heart pounds as you tear at the SpongeBob SquarePants gift wrap and reveal the Nintendo logo. You scream and run around the house because you’re seven years old and a new GameCube is quite literally the best moment of your life so far. You unwrap the other presents and see the first two games you will ever play entirely by yourself: Super Mario Sunshine and Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.

Sunshine becomes your favorite game. You fall in love with the music and the colors and the funky dance the little Italian dude does when you set the controller down. Then, two months in, you get stuckMaybe a level is too difficult for you, or you don’t really know where to go. So after banging your head against the television for an hour, you decide you want to play something easier. You dig Harvest Moon out of your closet. It’s still wrapped in plastic; the farming simulator hadn’t seemed that interesting to you. But it’s all you’ve got, so you pop the disc in and give it a whirl.

You lose three hours that first night. It’s summer break and there’s nothing to do, so you play until your eyes are dry and begging you to rest. You begrudgingly go to sleep, and immediately play again the next morning. You’re been entranced by the charm of the game—bewitched by the quaint little town tucked away somewhere in the hills of rural Japan. You start planning out a farm. You save up money and buy a chicken. You name her Yoshi. You run around the town and introduce yourself to all the neighbors.

Everyone you meet tells you to seek out the three young women who live in the town; that these three beautiful young women have been waiting around for a handsome young farmer to come and sweep them off their feet. Though you’re only seven, you do feel like a handsome young farmer. You introduce yourself to each of the ladies, hoping for an ignition of attraction between you and the small cartoon sprites on the television. Each of them disappoints. You can’t put your finger on it, but you’re not interested in any of them.

Time progresses in the game. You make your way through all of the seasons and start to explore the secrets of the town. You are enthralled by hints of a deeper storyline. You have forgotten Sunshine entirely. You reach the end of the year and a cutscene interrupts your progress: One of the beautiful young women has proposed to you. You’re sitting on the floor of your bedroom in SpongeBob pajama pants, and a young woman has proposed to you. You decline, because you’re saving up money to buy a cow. (You want to name her Luigi.) The screen goes black, and the words GAME OVER flash. Your file is deleted. The world is over.

 

It’s 2012. You are a freshman in high school. You’re living in a hotel with your mom and you try your best not to let anyone at school know about it. You don’t have a phone, but everyone else does, and so you find yourself asking your mom if she can afford to buy you one. She really can’t, but a few weeks later she takes you to a Cricket store and lets you pick out a $70 Android phone anyway. It’s painfully slow, and the camera takes grainy photos. You treasure it.

You’ve played a lot of games in the past seven years, and this phone has a lineup of brand new ones for you to try. You rip your way through each of them, growing bored easily. One day, you’re sitting in Algebra 1 when you notice the kid in front of you playing a game on his phone. You ask him about it, and he says that you can play any Gameboy game on a phone if you know how to do it. That night you lie in bed and scroll through a list of games on the website the boy in math told you to go to. You see a familiar name: Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town. You download it.

You start a new game, but the game is very different from the one you played seven years ago. The graphics are older, and the main character is a girl. You’ve never played a video game as a girl before; you’ve hardly ever had the choice. But you settle into it quickly, pretending that your overalls and long blond hair belong to a boy. You clean up your farm. You buy two chickens. You name them Chell and GlaDos. You explore the town and meet the villagers. There are a lot more of them in this game, and they’re all very friendly. They call you pretty, which you guess doesn’t bother you too much.

Everyone in the game tells you that you need to meet the young men who live in the village, so you introduce yourself to each of them. It feels strange being passed around by these virtual boys. One of them, named Gray, is rude to you at first. You’re immediately interested in getting to know him because of this. Every time you talk to him, or bring him a fresh loaf of bread, he gets a little nicer. Eventually he starts calling you a friend. You find yourself smiling a lot when his character is on the screen.

Time passes. You’re saving up to buy a cow. (You want to name her Luigi). You and Gray are getting closer. You’ve learned that his favorite snack is baked corn, so you deliver it to him every week. You start to forget he was ever rude to you. Underneath the standoffish exterior, he’s actually very sweet. It’s cute, when you let yourself think about it. Out of nowhere, Gray proposes to you.

You’re riding the bus home from school when it happens. You throw your phone inside of your backpack, convinced that every teenager on that vehicle knows exactly what you did. You feel terrified and unfathomably bare in front of all of them. Nobody says anything. You shrink into your seat, making yourself as small as possible until you reach your stop. When you get home, you walk into your room and take your phone out of the bag gingerly, like it’s a weapon. The proposal is still there, waiting for your answer. You say yes.

Your wedding day arrives, and you are excited. You’re thinking about what kind of suit you’ll wear when the game forces you into a cutscene. Your hair has flowers braided into it. You’re wearing a white dress. You walk down the aisle, and Gray is there. He calls you his bride. You feel something twist deep inside of you. It’s all wrong, and you don’t know why. You set the phone down. You don’t play the game ever again.

 

It’s 2019. You’re living by yourself for the first time in a big lonely apartment. You don’t talk to your family much. They’ve each handled your budding queerness in their own ways, all of which involve creating distance. You’ve dated a little bit here and there, but you don’t feel capable of loving yourself enough to let someone else try doing it.

You work a lot, saving money to buy things you enjoy. A couple of these things are a Nintendo Switch and Super Mario Odyssey. You play it pretty much any time you aren’t working. Over the next two months you fall in love with the music and the colors and the funky dance the little Italian dude does when you set the controller down. Then you get bored. You’ve just beaten it too many times, the challenges aren’t hard anymore, and you find yourself wanting something a little different. You pull up the game store and browse through, hoping to find something to keep you interested. A title draws you: Stardew Valley. It’s a farming simulator. You buy it immediately.

You start a new game, and this time you aren’t thrust into being a boy or girl; you get to choose to be either. You create a character, giving him a beard and hair that match yours. You feel like a rugged young man these days, and your character reflects that. The game begins.

You see your farm. You clean it up. You explore the town. You meet the villagers. It’s a routine that feels familiar. But as you start to fall in love with the game, you realize that there’s a fear buried deep inside your chest, so deep that to speak it out loud would surely rip you in half. But still you fall. Especially once you meet the Doctor.

The Doctor has a moustache, which you think is cute. He loves coffee, and you keep going back to his clinic just to drop off a cup for him. The world of the game shifts, and you realize that this doctor is part of your community. He worries about the safety of your character.

Time passes. You buy a chicken and name her Applesauce. You grow closer to the Doctor. He shows you his room, a surprisingly tender gesture. You bring him the freshest, blackest coffee you can brew. You watch the hearts by his name fill up and become a deeper shade of red, a shade reserved only for those in the town with the word “single” underneath their names. You keep bringing him coffee, admiring his moustache, and hoping for something you’re too afraid to ask for.

One day, the two of you go up into a hot air balloon together. It’s a cliche, but there’s something about the pixelated sunset that makes you feel like you’re on fire. The doctor grabs your character’s hand and tells you to hold onto him because he’s scared. Your heart pounds. The fear inside of your chest feels like it’s burrowing its way out, straight through your heart. Once the two of you float safely down to the ground, you ask him to marry you. He says yes.

Your wedding day arrives, and you are excited. The cutscene begins, and the two of you stand there at the altar. Your hair is still the same. Your beard is still there. You’re wearing a suit. The mayor, officiating the wedding, tells you how happy he is to have you be a part of the community. The Doctor looks at you. He calls you his husband. The screen goes dark. The day is over. You set your controller down and cry out something that you’ve needed to cry out for fourteen years. You wipe your face and start playing again. You buy a cow. You name her Luigi.

Comments

11 comments have been posted.

What sweet story! I love how you brought humor and realism to this story of discovery and coming of age.

Sharon Weir | April 2022 | Portland, Oreogn

What a wonderful ending. I'm so glad there was closure about the cow named Luigi, and of course everything else :-) Thanks for sharing this story with us!

Lisa Notman | April 2022 | Portland, OR

I didn't know one could feel nostalgic about the future, but here I am. Beautifully written and leaves us filled with the resilience to seek the best of what is possible. Chef's kiss, hats off!

Cait Kelley | April 2022 |

Heck yes. Thanks, Concerned Ape, for making a sweet space for each of us to to explore and be who we are - farmer, adventurer, miner, boy, girl, whatever. And thanks, Jordan, for expressing so poignantly why it matters!

Morgan K. | April 2022 | Portland

Gave me tingles and brought a nostalgic smile to my face. Thank you :)

Nia Johnson | April 2022 | Portland

This was brilliant. I loved it so much. ❤

Andrea Lynn | April 2022 |

A fantastic piece of writing. Why is the author's name missing?

Ryan O. | March 2022 |

Wonderful piece, beautifully wrought - thank you so much.

Celia Scher Wagner | March 2022 |

Nice one J. Felt that in the bones. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

Jules | March 2022 |

Great read.2nd person narratives are always interesting and unique.I’m glad you found your “Mario” in the end.

Noah Smith | March 2022 |

I didn’t want the story to end… Brilliant storyline, magnificent writing. You allowed me to experience your thoughts, feelings, fear and your triumphant moment you had been longing for so many years. Such a simple solution - give people choices so that we are all able to live or dream to our hearts content.So well done. You will continue to enlighten our world with your bravery to share your private world. Thank you - I feel grateful and privileged. Cheers!!

Marion Singer | March 2022 | California

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