Two 10-year-old girls curl up on a purple bedspread, a sphinx cat in one lap and a GameCube controller in the other. A power button, a charming dance of blocks, then the sound of sweet, slow farm music starts to play. So begins their adventure with Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.
At the time it was the exact fantasy we needed in our life, and yet it also proved just how limited our fantasies could be.
The Eldest Daughters of Harvest Moon
My friend and I never knew what to do with our summers – responsible older sisters often didn’t. Never wanted to cause trouble, she and I. Yet when her parents bought her a GameCube, we stole away whatever sweet free time we had to haphazardly, cluelessly play it. No guides, no wikis, no secret knowledge learned in the back shelves of a Gamestop. Just whatever we could figure out on our own while we stared up at her little box TV. That was our game.
We were both the eldest children of rambunctious families, the good quiet ones who didn’t get grounded because we were mature for our age. When we weren’t doing chores or homework or caring for our siblings, both of us spent many hours on our own, isolated. But not while playing Harvest Moon. It was the first time I experienced that feeling of a comfortable silence — the peaceful quiet of two people enjoying each other’s company without a word. Raising chickens, harvesting carrots, all we had were giggled whispers and then slack-jawed awe at Harvest Moon, our cute little game where responsible caretakers like us were the hero. A rare gift, indeed.
It didn’t magically give us the space to be the loud, rambunctious kids our siblings got to be, but it at least gave us a relatable protagonist.
Fossils and Romance and Happily Ever After
Very quickly into Harvest Moon, we realized that you could romance some of your fellow villagers. Pre-teen girls were already expected to grow up fast to adjust to the watchful, judgmental world. Dependable elder sisters grew up even faster. As mature as we were told we were, we became fixated on every love interest around town. It was childish and it was adult and it was all a game because we didn’t really understand anything about romance in the first place.
We started with Celia, the easiest one to marry. We brought her flowers and talked to her at her family farm. It was something we had in common, the whole farming thing. We married and had a kid and, as far as we were concerned, lived happily ever after. Then we hit restart.
Once we made it back to spring of year 1, this time it was Muffy we set our romantic crosshairs on. We gave her Moon Ore and Trick Blue flowers and listened to her singing. She was a beauty from far away, out of our league but with a soft heart. We fell in love, married, and had a rambunctious son we had to chase around the farm. We were happy… Until we pressed that restart button again.
Last, and our favorite, was Nami. A little standoffish and brooding, she was our distant anime dreamboat. Fitting, as my friend liked Naruto’s Gaara and I liked Teen Titan’s Raven. But they were superheroes and we were just two girls, so Nami was a much more reasonable goal. After what felt like eons of harvesting fossils and memorizing her schedule, we convinced Nami we really, truly, were interested in her. Romancing Nami was difficult and quiet and worth the wait. We married and had such a sweet, shy boy. And then, for one last time, we shut off the game and it ended.
As far as we were concerned, clueless pre-teens playing Harvest Moon in a summer bedroom, that’s where the game always ended. We fell in love, married, had a kid. That was it. We won. What else was there?
If You Enjoy Harvest Moon: Before the Green Moon Impressions: Putting Down Roots
I’m not sure if it spoke to our youthfulness or our roles in our families, but we both lived in this strange space where we wanted to act grown up, to have romances and happily ever afters like adults did, and yet we still couldn’t imagine a life past marriage and a baby. It wasn’t until recently that I even knew that there was more gameplay to Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. An entire second half that we simply never played.
Maybe we just never got to it and maybe the romances were all the fun we wanted.
Maybe it’s because that was all our little girl brains could imagine for ourselves.
A Relateable Hero
This friend and I lived next door to one another for six years. Half our hangouts involved babysitting our siblings together, cooking and helping out, or keeping quiet in our rooms, out of our parents’ way. We were just being what we were expected to be – the mature eldest sisters, too old to be loud but too young to be heard. Spending hours on her GameCube was a well-loved respite for both of us, staying quiet yet still escaping to places where we could explore brand-new worlds. Far grander, far bigger worlds than the bedrooms we spent so much time in.
We wanted fantasy but there was only so much we could fantasize. I loved reading dragon books, but I couldn’t see a dependable daughter in Eragon. A quiet babysitter in a shinobi village. An isolated bedroom as the playground for a vigilante. But a farmer in a cozy, romantic little village? That I could imagine for myself, even if it only went so far as the happily ever after wedding bells.
Growing Up Beyond The Moon
As thrilled as I was with it as a kid, Harvest Moon now seems so bittersweet. At face value, we got to dream up soft romances and cozy futures like pre-teen girls do. Make a game out of growing up and falling in love like it was that easy. It was a rare way to feel like even our responsibilities could be fluffy and fun. Underneath, we were good girls expected to grow up and be good wives and good mothers to good little babies that we could barely even imagine. We already spent so many hours caring for babies that weren’t ours. Perhaps part of the fantasy was seeing our sons’ cute little cheeks and then shutting off the game. The adulting, the caretaking, they were finite.
I love those little girls for embracing whatever fantasy and childhood fun that they could. And my heart breaks for them, knowing their fantasies lived so limited.
Years later, we both went to college and got married. But neither of us has kids. Neither of us works as caretakers. We are responsible, but being responsible is hardly the only trait that matters about us anymore. We found our own ways to be grown-ups without some homestead happily ever after.
A Childhood Remembered
Harvest Moon is this perfect memorial of the lost-in-time little girls we were. I still rediscover that little girl whenever I play video games, letting her explore even more wild fantasies with dragons and deep sea diving, and wasteland survival. She also comes out for conventions and Discord groups and movie nights and anything that lights her up like a gleeful, lively little firecracker. Reveling in being the little girl she wasn’t given the space to be. She’s loved by friendships and families just as she is. Still dependable, still nurturing, but also all those things a mature eldest daughter couldn’t imagine being – loud, rambunctious, happy.
I hope whatever my friend is doing these days, she can say the same.
We can’t change the fact we were encouraged to be grown-up little girls, but we can nurture the children left behind inside us. Remembering Harvest Moon, cradling that time capsule of the kids we were… If we do that, maybe we can grow a new and wonderful childhood long after childhood has gone.