Even The Calmest Of Games Can Be Agonizing At Times
In recent years, there has been a growing trend of games targeting those wanting to unwind and escape from the stress of everyday life. Instead of fighting enemies or frantically leveling up characters for hours on end, these games prioritize the completion of tasks such as farming, fishing, or crafting, thus providing players with a refreshing change of pace from the traditional action-packed games. A few of the most notable task-based games include titles like Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing, which have managed to captivate audiences with their relaxing gameplay and low-stress environments, making them popular among gamers of all ages and backgrounds.
Something I've noticed while playing those games myself is that, while they are often associated with relaxation and escapism, it is also curiously not too uncommon for players to find themselves feeling overwhelmed and even anxious while playing. The constant inner pressure to optimize gameplay, complete tasks within specific time limits, and keep up with demands can ultimately lead to burnout and stress as players feel like they're falling behind or failing to keep up with their in-game goals.
And while task-based games may seem like an oasis in a world of fast-paced games, they are not without their own unique set of challenges, beyond psychological ones. In addition to those potential stressors we've seen, task-based games can also present an issue with their repetitive gameplay, seeing that as players engage in the same tasks over and over again, they may begin to feel bored or uninterested over time, leading to a decline in enjoyment and motivation to continue playing.
Despite these issues, these more laidback games remain incredibly popular, and their appeal is quite understandable. They offer a unique and satisfying experience that can be enjoyed at one's own pace, not only allowing players to immerse themselves in a different world, but also enjoy the liberties of being able to go/do anything, anywhere, at any time. However, it's important to recognize the issues that come with playing these types of games for extended periods of time and explore possible ways to mitigate them, which is precisely what we'll be discussing a little bit down the line.
The Appeal of Task-Based Games: What Makes Them So Nice?
If you're one of those who never got the appeal of task-based games, you're probably wondering "what even makes these games good, to begin with?", and to that I say: it's mainly a combo of passive gameplay, simplistic mechanics and relaxing ambiance that truly sets them apart from everything else. Another thing is that they provide players with clear goals and objectives to work towards, where this sense of direction can be incredibly satisfying for many people, as players are able to see their progress over time, through unlockables such as new crafting recipes, for example. This guidance also provides a sense of structure, which can be particularly appealing for players who struggle with decision-making in real life.
Aside from that, the sense of achievement that comes with completing that endless list of tasks and whether it's building a house, growing a bountiful harvest, upgrading our tools, or befriending villagers, the feeling of progress can be incredibly satisfying, in a way that's hard to explain for someone who just doesn't get it. On a similar note, they also often provide players with a sense of community, where they need to interact with the game's various NPCs and build relationships with them in order to achieve their desired ends. This adds what's arguably their trump card: the element of socialization, where going out and interacting with people (eek) serves as a tool to make us, the players, feel more connected to the game's world and the characters situated in it.
Not to mention, they also tend to be more accessible to casual players. Unlike competitive games, which require a higher level of skill and dedication, these chiller games often have a lower skill threshold/ceiling, welcoming all kinds of people regardless of their age. This means that players can jump in and start playing right away without feeling intimidated, which is awesome for those who can't dedicate as much time to learn intrinsic systems and complex mechanics. As a result, these games have a far broader appeal than quite literally every other game out there, attracting a much, much wider range of players who really dig this more 'peaceful' style.
In addition to their accessibility, task-based games also offer a unique sense of creative expression. Many of these games allow players to customize their characters, homes, and even the surrounding environment with pretty much no limitations whatsoever (except for maybe a lack of creativity...). This extreme element of customization provides players with a sense of ownership over the game's world, allowing them to create a space that reflects their own personal style and preferences. This level of creative control can be incredibly rewarding, as players can watch their own slice of that digital world evolve and grow as they progress through the game.
Another thing is that I believe there's an inherently nostalgic feeling that comes almost embedded into the essence of these kinds of games, you know? Maybe I'm the only one, but to me, it's almost as if they are designed to evoke a sense of familiarity and comfort, with their simple graphics, calming soundtracks, and whimsical environments. This nostalgia factor can be especially appealing for players who grew up with similar games, such as the classic Harvest Moon titles on the Super Nintendo or the early iterations of Animal Crossing on the GameCube. These players may feel a sense of fondness for the genre, as it reminds them of calmer days when life was far simpler than it is today.
In summary, the appeal of task-based games is multi-faceted, and it is these elements that make games such as Stardew Valley so popular and beloved by their players. Also, it's important to note that the appeal of these cozier games can vary from player to player, as some may find the slow pacing and repetitive tasks boring, while others find it satisfying and relaxing — both stances being very much understandable. Nonetheless, task-based games offer a unique gaming experience that can be enjoyed by many, and the popularity of the aforementioned title among others is a testament to their absurd appeal.
The Untold Issue With Task-Based Games: What Nobody Tells You
As we already know, whenever discussing the problems of games encircled by such large, passionate communities, it's important to approach things... cautiously. So, to avoid overstepping my boundary, I'll try to be as delicate as possible when pointing out what I believe are problematic for those awesome games. That said, what I think is the biggest tradeoff of task-based games is that, while they can be appealing by nature, they also have a 'darker' (eerie) side that is often overlooked. What I mean by this is that those very same elements that make these games so satisfying can also make them incredibly stressful and even addicting for some players, and those sweet little tasks can come at the expense of people's own real-life responsibilities.
Furthermore, these laidback experiences can create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) for players, since the sheer amount of tasks and events can quickly add up to make it challenging to see everything there is to see, leading players to feel like they are missing out on content if they don't show up to play regularly. This sometimes irrational fear can lead to a sense of obligation to play the game, even when the player might not be wanting to. Additionally, the need to constantly keep up with tasks and deadlines can lead to a feeling of shame when players are unable to complete everything they set out to do, especially when playing on a multiplayer environment.
Now, it's no secret that these games can often require players to engage in intense micromanagement, which can be another hurdle for some players. Having to oversee a variety of resources, including time, money, and inventory can be pretty overwhelming, even to the best of us, if we're being honest. The constant need to optimize gameplay can lead players to feel like they are always lagging behind relative to their own expectations, which can lead to anxiety and likely burnout, feelings that I can attest to some degree, as even I, myself, often felt bummed for never reaching the desired perfection I aimed for at the beginning of my every playthrough.
Moreover, task-based games often have a set endpoint, after which investing time into improving something in-game any further becomes irrelevant. This can lead to a sense of emptiness for players who have invested a significant amount of time and effort into the game, and may struggle to find something else that can provide the same level of satisfaction, plus it can make it so that strategy is meaningless on the long run, and no matter how much effort they put into reviving their excitement for the game, such as overhauling their houses, farms, etc, it only works as means to delay the inevitable.
For those reasons, even the chillest, wholesomest of games can contribute to negative side effects on people's mental health despite their numerous therapeutic benefits, as strange as it might sound. While playing them can provide an immediate sense of relaxation and perhaps act as a door to momentarily escape from reality, it can also lead to players neglecting other responsibilities and activities in their real life. But, of course, this is only to say that there's nothing that's fully perfect, in a way that moderation isn't required, even when relating to such a fine form of entertainment.
In conclusion, while task-based games offer a sense of accomplishment and escapism, they can also lead to several unhealthy gaming habits. These issues can have a significant impact on players' mental health and well-being, making it important to recognize and address them whenever there is an opportunity. With that said, my advice is that players need to be aware of the potential risks associated with these games and to take the necessary steps to mitigate them, such as setting boundaries on gameplay time, taking breaks, and prioritizing real-life responsibilities over virtual ones or, as we'll see in just a moment: tailor their experiences to work for them in a way that isn't as harmful.
How Mods Can Help Lessen The Issue: Creators To The Rescue
While the issues with task-based games may seem daunting at a first glance, there is a simple solution that can help lessen the stress and pressure applied to players by a whole lot. Varying greatly in scope, user-generated modifications — also known as mods — is a form of content that can be downloaded online to alter or enhance the experience encountered in a game. In the case of our beloved farming simulators, mods can offer a variety of benefits that can help alleviate the issues associated with them.
Another significant way they can help is by adding new content or perhaps expanding and tweaking some of a title's pre-existing systems and features to a more tailored polish. This can prevent players from feeling like the game isn't reactive to their needs, thus reducing the pressure to give up and move on to something else that works better for them. They can also be the door to new challenges and objectives, providing players with new goals to strive for and keeping their content fresh and interesting.
Moreover, modders also help in the sense that they extend the life of a game by addressing issues and bugs that the developers may not have had time or resources to fix. This helps by improving the overall quality of a title and make it a much more enjoyable experience for players. Additionally, mods can help implement features that were promised for the game that never made the cut, or add features that were suggested by the community but ignored or not implemented by the developers.
Furthermore, some mods are made with the absolute intent of addressing some of the more problematic aspects of games, which is especially awesome for star-gazing simulators. For example, there are mods out there that can simplify or automate certain tasks, making them less tedious and time-consuming, allowing players to focus instead on the aspects of the game that they enjoy the most, such as mining and adventuring until they pass out late in the night. Meanwhile, others can be more lightweight, introducing mostly quality-of-life features or cosmetic changes aimed at bringing the game's world together without the need for major overhauls or official expansions.
And lastly, mods can extend the lifespan of pretty much any given game, keeping it fresh and exciting for players to explore over many years. This corrects the problem of games having a set endpoint where monotony and/or boredom takes over as soon as players run out of stuff to do, seeing as modders can add new quests, characters, and storylines to the game at will, providing new content-rich experiences and goals to achieve, keeping things interesting for far longer periods of time.
In conclusion, mods are undeniably a really powerful remedy for treating the sentiment of stress and anxiety that can somehow still be encountered in the chillest of games. And while they can provide players with several tools to enhance their overall experience, it's important to note that not all mods are created equal, and some may even exacerbate the issues surrounding those games, detracting from their original appeal. Therefore, players should explore mods as a means to better enjoy themselves and reduce the stress and anxiety while proceeding with care, so as to not spoil their fun in the long run, as per usual.
Final Thoughts: Changing The Whole World One Step At A Time
As you can probably already imagine, these were some hopefully constructive criticism I've been holding back for quite a long while now, and to finally get them off my chest is... amazing, to say the least. And while most people won't experience any of the issues mentioned in this post today, they remain relevant enough to the point the problem had to be addressed — so if nobody else is going to do it, better get the job done myself, no? Anyways, with that said, I think it's fairly important for us to establish where and how to tackle these issues, to remove them from the background permanently.
In the case of developers, they can start by making sure to enable their community to voice their concerns a little bit more. If not that, then the only other problem I'd like to see addressed is some increased support for mods, since with a large, bustling community of such dedicated folks, anything can be set up for success. They already do such great jobs working with limited tools, so, why not empower them a little bit more by being at the very least slightly more transparent to make the service they do free of charge even easier? There is a myriad of reasons to love these creators and it's nearly unanimous that the benefits they bring to the community are ginormous.
As for us who are part of the community, it's important to acknowledge and address the toxic behaviors that can arise from within it. This means receiving with open arms all kinds of questions and shunning hateful comments that can leave a lasting negative impression on those struggling both in-game and in real life. Meanwhile, hiding away and pretending everything is fine would only exacerbate the issue, doing more harm than good in the long run. We must warmly welcome all, set clear guidelines, and actively enforce/share rules, as a means to be more inclusive as a whole without waiting for things to magically get better on their own.
By creating a safe and supportive environment, we can ensure that everyone feels welcome and included, regardless of their background or experiences. Still, it's important to recognize that no solution will ever be perfect or universally effective. It's impossible to please everyone, and there will always be differing opinions and perspectives within the community. Therefore, we must remain open-minded and willing to make changes as needed, seeing as every small step matters to grow as a community.