Is 2021 the year of the queer farming sim? Why people are flocking to these peaceful games in droves

Ed Nightingale
·5-min read

One of the biggest gaming success stories of the last few years is the farming simulator Stardew Valley (which, incidentally, is currently on offer on Steam).

Inspired by classic farming sim games – namely the Harvest Moon series that began on the SNES in 1996 – the game allows you to build your own farm, harvest crops, care for animals, and integrate yourself into the local community. And that means a diverse mix of romanceable locals and same-sex marriage as your partner joins your farm.

Developed by just one person – Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone – the game was released back in 2016, but remains popular to this day, with the latest patch recently released, which includes plenty of extra content.

On Twitch especially the game has a large following, with LGBT+ streamers and viewers appreciating the game’s relaxed, cosy vibe.

While not a farming sim specifically, Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons took the world by storm in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Building your own island idyll, customising your home and getting friendly with animal villagers are all part of the game’s cosy appeal, leading to over 31 million copies sold (as of December 2020) to become the Switch console’s second top-selling title in just 10 months.

Animal Crossing is particularly adored by the LGBT+ community, who praise the game for its creativity and genderless options, despite the fact that there is no specific LGBT+ representation.

It’s in the wake of these two phenomenal games that there’s been a rise of cosy, comfy games that eschew high-octane action and shooting mechanics for an idyllic, escapist fantasy. Games like My Time At Portia, Spiritfarer, Forager, Ooblets and more farming sim games have been released in the last year or two, some of which also offer same-sex romance.

Farming sims offer a slower pace, favour gentle gameplay and creativity, and provide an opportunity for LGBT+ players to create their very own queer agricultural utopia. And there are more on the horizon.

First up is Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, that’s just released for Nintendo Switch. It’s developed by Marvelous, the original developers of the Harvest Moon farming sim series who now publish the Story of Seasons series as a spiritual successor after splitting with publisher Natsume.

Pioneers of Olive Town isn’t the first Story of Seasons game to hit the Switch, following the remake of Game Boy Advance title Friends of Mineral Town just last year. That remake was the first in the series to include same-sex marriage – at least, in the west.

In the Japanese version the same relationship system is (awkwardly) known as Best Friends and allows same-sex couples to partner up, but in the Western localisation same-sex marriage is treated equally.

That same system will also feature in Pioneers of Olive Town, so you can look after the adorably rotund cows alongside one of five bachelors or bachelorettes from the titular town. For such a heavily Japanese series, the inclusion of same-sex marriage is certainly pioneering.

Notably, Natsume continues to produce farming sims under the Harvest Moon name but with a different developer. Harvest Moon: One World is released on 2 March, also for the Switch, and has one view of marriage: opposite sex only. Though gay marriage was originally intended to be in the game, the feature was cut due to COVID-19.

Also now available on the Switch, though already available on Steam, is indie game Littlewood that’s heavily inspired by Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. It takes place after the defeat of an evil Dark Wizard and tasks you with repopulating the world by embarking on adventurous quests, foraging for items, and convincing townsfolk to stay in your town. Harvesting materials allows you to build new structures and you can even terraform to fully customise your town.

Littlewood game
Littlewood is a delightfully retro gaming experience

Littlewood includes a romance system that’s open to all townsfolk (except one). When creating your character, you’re not bound by gender binary. Instead, you simply select from visual options and a personality type. From there you can build your relationships with the townsfolk by complimenting, flirting, dating and eventually marrying them.

Hitting alpha access in April is Roots of Pacha, a farming and life sim set in the prehistoric age that’s currently on Kickstarter with a full release expected next year. Beyond its tribal aesthetic, the twist is that characters will generate Ideas you can choose to develop. The game is being developed by two brothers, inspired by their youth playing Harvest Moon. As expected there is a romance system – here called a Union – and yes, you can be gay.

Later in the year, we’ll see the release of Coral Island. Another indie farming sim, it’s received over a million pounds on Kickstarter and is set to be a direct competitor to Stardew Valley. As well as exploring caverns, you can dive into the ocean to explore the beautiful coral reefs and meet merfolk.

Romance will form a key part of the game and backers are already thirsting over the game’s diverse cast of characters, all drawn in a cute Disney-esque style. Romance, marriage and children are all options, with all of the 16 dateable characters available regardless of gender. And if none of them takes your fancy, you can always marry another player in multiplayer. Coral Island will launch in early access at the end of 2021, with a full release due in 2022.

Coral Island
Coral Island. (Stairway Games)

It’s in these sim games that we’re seeing some of the most inclusive LGBT+ representation in gaming, be it through genderless character creation and/or a diverse mix of romanceable NPCs.

These are games that allow LGBT+ gamers to be themselves and create their own personal idyll, alone or in multiplayer away from other toxic online communities. It seems 2021 could just be the year of the queer farming sim.