Mineko's Night Market released to some pretty middling reviews recently. I haven't played it myself and don't plan to because I find most games in this genre to be relatively boring in my own hands - more power to those who enjoy it.
It did get me thinking, though, reading reviews. Lots of people I've seen talk about how it's a "cozy" and/or "wholesome" game. Maybe it's just because I've been irritable lately, but I hate both descriptors when it comes to games. I am not cozy, nor am I wholesome. I am abrasive and filled with some mixture of vigor and spite. Looking at Mineko's Night Market, I'd argue it isn't cozy or wholesome either. Because it, like most "cozy" farming/market games, are just some spin on Cottage Capitalism.
Nothing's wrong with that, by the way. I just think it's worth thinking about what we apply labels like this to. I'm not saying you're controlling wages or keeping a monopoly growing in Stardew Valley or whatever. Hell, that game has an entire story arc where you can push a big business out of the community, which is pretty sick.
But it's interesting to me that the game design that's engaging to most people requires a power curve, even in something as ostensibly "wholesome" as Harvest Moon. There has to be a feeling of "growth" or a player loses interest. Your favorite farming sim isn't Diablo, but that growth is the same. Just replace your Necromancer with your farm, and your gear with your crop output or relationship status with the community.
These cozy games seem to have to have capitalistic systems in them because progression systems are baked into capitalism. Before I sat down to write this, I tried to think about what a game without them would look like. What would Harvest Moon be like if it took place in an anarchistic society, or some sort of collectivist community? Granted, I'm a dumbass and I also didn't think about it very long, but I couldn't really come up with anything. The closest I could posit was something like Sakuna - Of Rice and Ruin, a game where your crops are grown to give Sakuna stat boosts and make food for your band of misfits, and not much else. But at that point are you playing a farming sim or a survival game? There's no local conveniences in Sakuna. And in a collectivist game, is there an ability to generate player freedom or empowerment if the game's message ends up being "everyone must contribute equally"? Is it even possible to make a game like that that's actually fun or engaging to play?
Most games in the "cozy farmer" genre exist in this weird, utopic realm where income exists without expenditure (unless you're playing Reccettear, where you actually have to pay rent). As such they lend themselves to this aura of coziness that feels, at least to me, like a facade. And again, that's perfectly fine to enjoy. Maybe for the people who enjoy these games, the coziness comes from watching the number go up without having to worry about your boss or your landlord hovering behind you to take a cut of your time or profit. But it's interesting to me that as far as I can tell, this kind of social sim will always rely on modeling an aspect of the human condition that I'm not a fan of.
I dunno. I'm extra prickly lately and this piece probably could use an editor but I'm just winging it. Am I off base? Does any of this make sense, or is this just another notch on my grumpiness belt? Let me know, here or on Cohost. Thanks for reading.