Hey, FemHype readers, and welcome to part two of “You Wouldn’t Download a Date!” In my last piece, I talked about ways in which mods for games like Dragon Age: Inquisition fit into the larger scheme of fanworks and conversations within fandom. After getting waylaid by health problems, I’m back to talk about a twist on everyone’s (my) favorite farming simulator!
(More) Friends of Mineral Town is a small-scale farming simulator where you raise crops, befriend villagers, and start up your own successful farm—all the while (potentially) pursuing one of the candidates for marriage to eventually build your own family. In More Friends of Mineral Town, you play as a woman who can only date men; in Friends of Mineral Town, your protagonist can only be a man who’s interested in women.
That’s where the True Love Edition patches come in.
A set of two patches, one for each version of the base game, the True Love Editions offer a swapped formula where More Friends of Mineral Town is about a man pursuing other men and Friends of Mineral Town stars a woman who exclusively falls in love with women. By virtue of how the child mechanic in the game works, with the protagonist of More Friends of Mineral Town carrying the child and Friends of Mineral Town handing that off to their wife, it’s also presumed your that player character themselves is transgender, which the patch creator intends to leave in the patch permanently.
Simply because of what this patch is and the kind of small-scale farming games the Harvest Moon ones are, these English-language patches occupy a really interesting space in the discussion around life in rural United States communities.
There’s something that’s conspicuously absent in discussions of being LGBTQIA+ in small towns or rural areas that’s exemplified fairly well in (More) Friends of Mineral Town’s base plot, and that’s the question of what to do if you choose to stay in a small rural town or return permanently as an adult. So many people leave for their own safety that the story of existing as an LGBTQIA+ person hailing from an area with a for-profit church bigger than your school becomes one of departure, one that can’t negotiate itself with the idea of choosing to stay exactly where you are, exactly as you are.
But people do stay. People stay and form smaller-knit communities with none of the advantages that come with larger cities’ relative anonymity; Cheers might have built itself on the back of an appeal to wanting a place where “everyone knows your name,” but that reality meant (and still means) the terrifying realization that any wrong move (or posture, or tone, or atypical expression of interest) with anyone could leave you tied down on the proverbial train tracks.
So what True Love Edition is, whether intentionally or not, is ultimately a story about existing in a rural community as an LGBTQIA+ person that isn’t centered around death and grief and suffering. It’s about working hard to realize your dream of running a successful farm the same way all the other Harvest Moon games have always been, and making space for friends, or family, or exactly the kind of life you want to live while you’re at it.
This isn’t to say that there’s no space for the acknowledgement of the truth behind the scripts of every tragedy with a rural backdrop, or no space to paint real pictures about how dangerous it can be to live in a space that would prefer to see you gone. I place the kind of value in those stories that took me years to pull out of my own suffering and pain and loss, and I look at those stories with understanding, because I know. I understand leaving.
I understand leaving because I had to leave.
But for all that automatic relationship I have with these stories, it’s so, so tiring for every counterbalance to that painful truth, every positive message about living as you are in a space that loves you, to exist so heavily in the the narrative space that warns listeners to stay away from small towns (because there’s nothing that can be done) and to move to the bustling cities (because everything is pain-free there) and to leave everyone else behind (because they’re not your responsibility).
I left, and I was the only one who did, but I wasn’t the only one who lived there.
And that’s what I liked about True Love Edition, too—the underlying implication that your player character isn’t the only not-straight person in town. Villagers gossip about crushes and marriage proposals when that time rolls around; on the women’s side, just about every woman your character’s age is equally willing to date a woman as they are to date a man, and correspondingly so for the men. Dialogue adjustments fine-tune the experience so pronoun slips are nearly non-existent and presumptions of straightness are gone entirely.
Marriage is always going to be a secondary aspect to (More) Friends of Mineral Town where you can give gifts only as often as you make money or visit only as your free hours line up with certain villagers’ availabilities, but the connections with bachelors and bachelorettes and families and farmers is something that drove so many players’ experiences of the entire Harvest Moon series. Playing (More) Friends of Mineral Town without ever interacting with your town’s villagers is a lonely experience, and with the dialogue checks and in-universe awareness of expanded romance options in play, it removes the potential need for isolation out of a desire to avoid misgendering and latent homophobia, because those don’t run free in the world True Love Edition opened the doors to.
“This project is important to me on a very personal level. I love the Harvest Moon series, but struggled for the opportunity to play the game the way I wanted. I felt that if I really wanted a game where I can be myself, where I am allowed to make the choices I wanted to make, I would have to take it upon myself to make that happen. Falling in love is my favorite part of any Harvest Moon game, and for the first time, everything feels right.
I hope you enjoy falling in love again.”
See you next week.