What have I been doing? Playing Harvest Moon 64. It’s an oldie, releasing in 1999, but a goody. It’s an odd game, like the rest of the Harvest Moon series. All you do is manage a farm which feels very much like doing chores. What makes it so fun? The answer to why Harvest Moon 64 is fun might explain why I find sandbox games in general to be so much fun.
I get to choose what I do and almost total control of how I play rests in my hands. I can choose what to plant, how I take care of my crops and animals, and who I take to be a wife. I’ve been given a plot of land and been tasked with doing whatever I want to it. I’m even able to upgrade my house.
Having to manage the economic side fascinates me. To make money all I have to do is plant crops and/or manage my farm animals (eggs, wool, milk). Since there are limited hours in the day before I must sleep (or risk getting sick), I have to choose how I will allocate that time. If I plant too much, I won’t have time to take care of my animals, etc..
The gameplay is dynamic. It changes forever based on the inputs I provide. I’m not following any story whatsoever, and nothing but time is linear. These are the same virtual world traits I look for in sandbox MMO’s. Something about ‘living’ in a game vs. playing-through has a psychological benefit for me.
Ridiculous, but watering eggplants in the Fall and brushing my horse give me more pleasure than questing in a galaxy far, far away or saving the galaxy from a reaper invasion.