I love a good farming video game, love the sense of pride I feel getting up at dawn to muck out a barn and plant crops without having to actually, you know…get up at dawn to muck out a barn and plant crops. There’s also something meditative about immersing yourself in a game that involves you essentially doing chores. The repetitive tasks of farming, fishing or cooking allow your brain time to slow down and relax, all with the joys and rewards that come with watching your player gain experience and skills.
In short, it’s a perfect winter activity. It always helps to have a new game to pass the time—especially if you live in an area that is facing another COVID-related lockdown or similar restrictions. In that case, check out one of these titles and watch your virtual farm grow.
Try your hand at (virtually) driving a grape-harvesting machine. Photo courtesy of Farming Simulator.
Farming Simulator 22
You may have already heard the hype surrounding Farming Simulator. The game series is hugely popular, and the latest edition often has more people playing on Steam, an online game streaming service, than popular first-person shooter games such as Battlefield 2042.
Farming Simulator is…a farming simulator. The name says it all. And yet, it’s so much more. In the game, you can grow crops and sell them, breed livestock and buy machinery, which seems pretty straightforward. But the game is also a bit of a puzzle. There are missions to complete, and if you decide you want to say, bake a cake, you’ll have to figure out all the steps to get that done. And you might spend more than $1 million doing it.
Get your friends together for a multi-player harvest! Photo courtesy of Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is a favorite among the Modern Farmer team—and for good reason. There are infinite possibilities for your farm. You start by farming your plot of land, and then gradually take on other duties such as taking care of animals, foraging for ingredients, completing quests and meeting the townsfolk. You also have to head underground to the mines to collect rare minerals and also fight off flaming zombie hordes. All in a day’s work.
Time in Stardew Valley is linear but also endless. There is a calendar that follows four distinct seasons, with different crops that grow in each. As you progress through the game and gain more skills, you’ll be able to create more useful machines, make more recipes and even marry one of the villagers if you woo them properly. However, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the timeline. So, just as in real life, you can keep working your farm, racking up the years, until you decide to retire.
Demonstrate your farming abilities in a whole new world. Photo courtesy of Verdant Skies.
In this farming simulation, you are part of a new colony on a brand new world, full of people who need to farm the land to ensure their own survival. Think Stardew Valley, but with more exploration and relationship building between you and the other colonists.
Of course, you’ll have to grow crops in your farm plots and level up to find new seeds and starts, but you’ll also be able to create your own. As you improve the machinery, you’ll get access to a gene splicer, where you can create new hybrid crops. You can be a farmer and a mad scientist! In between, you’ll also have to go fishing, decorate your living space and meet your neighbors.
Buy land and tend to it. Photo courtesy of Forager.
If you like games that fall on the cute and quirky side of things, check out Forager. It’s a two-dimensional game with charmingly old-school graphics and an open world, meaning you can explore to your heart’s content. You can also choose your own path as you explore the world, becoming a farmer or an adventurer, a merchant or a builder.
As you make your way around the world, your goal is to collect resources such as plants, minerals and gold. You’ll buy land, and use your treasures to create tools to work the land, expanding from there. You can advance one area of land or continue expanding to take on more territory. For a simple game, it has a lot of surprises up its sleeve and will keep you hooked.
Virtual greenhouses, anyone? Photo courtesy of Farmer’s Dynasty.
This game is part simulation and part role playing, which means you get a nice mix of view points. You can watch your fields and barns with a bird’s eye view from your handy drone cam, or you will drive the action, watching as your avatar hammers nails and shovels in the garden.
In Farmer’s Dynasty, you are tasked with taking over and rebuilding your grandfather’s farm, and boy, there is a lot to do. From modernizing the buildings and upgrading the machinery,m to harvesting veggies in your greenhouse and taking care of your animals, you’ll be busy. There are also side quests, such as fishing, and a whole open world to explore. If you go out and meet the neighbors, you might just find a partner and start your own family. There’s that dynasty you were working toward.
[RELATED: What Mario Kart Can Teach Us About Equitable Farming]
Pick pumpkins and more! Photo courtesy of Nintendo.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The March 2020 release of Animal Crossing meant the game shot up in popularity during the early stages of the pandemic, leading to shortages on the Nintendo Switch console. This game is a perfect escapist fantasy—literally. You start the game by arriving on a deserted island, and it’s up to you (and a trusty team of raccoons, who also happen to be your landlords) to make things habitable. That means you need to plant food and flowers, you have to fish and log trees, and you have to terraform the island to fit your needs. All that, and it’s adorable to boot.
In Animal Crossing, the non-playable characters (NPCs) you interact with are all animals with quirks and personalities. You can give and receive gifts from your villagers, and they speak in a baby-ish babble known as Animalese, which some have devoted hours to deciphering. I spent several days over my winter break trying to catch snowflakes to craft elaborate wreaths, and the time flew by. And my wreath looks delightful.
Race to keep up with restaurant orders. Photo courtesy of Team17.
Another series of games, Overcooked! offers an adrenaline rush of gaming, and it can be played with friends. Up to four players (in person or online multiplayer) take on the challenges set forth by the Onion King (an onion with a scepter and crown; he’s remarkably animated) to learn new recipes and save the kingdom.
Players have to work against the clock to complete tasks while running a restaurant. You have to chop ingredients and cook food, wash dishes and serve customers, all in a limited time. Oh, but that’s not all. Your restaurant is on the back of a moving truck and sometimes floating down a river on a raft. Sometimes, it’s on separate hot air balloons that you have to jump between or on moving platforms. Is it hectic? Yes. Is it fun? Also yes. The most recent addition to the series, Overcooked! All You Can Eat, has hundreds of levels for you to master—or try to, at least.
Perhaps the most beautiful plate of video game food that exists. Photo courtesy of FinalFantasy XV.
Final Fantasy XV
So this isn’t strictly a food-related game, but it’s safe to say that the food in this game kinda stole the show. Not only is it hyper realistic (and honestly, quite appetizing), but the game-within-a-game allows you to find new ingredients and inspirations to cook up dozens of distinct recipes.
In the game, you’ll lead Prince Noctis and his bodyguards on a quest to save his homeland and retake the throne. But while you’re saving the world, you’ll also be searching the countryside for new ingredients and food. One of the prince’s guards, Ignis, is the party’s chef. A true master of his craft, he is inspired by just about everything. If you find a rare ingredient in your travels, he might have a spark of inspiration. If you stop at a restaurant to eat, Ignis will want to recreate the dishes again. Saving the world and stopping for a good meal? That’s a win-win.
Watering plants has never looked so good. Photo courtesy of Among Trees.
Have you ever wanted to throw off the shackles of your everyday life and escape to the woods? Here’s your virtual chance. Among Trees throws you right into its world, where you land in a lush forest with nothing but a backpack. As you travel around, you’ll pick up resources, build a cabin, cultivate plants and watch out for predators, like the dangerous bear.
Despite the desolate nature of the game, Among Trees is gorgeous, with colorful scenes and a light, relaxing score. You can forage for food in the forest at first and eventually learn to cook.
You have to be curious and resourceful to survive in the wilderness, but you’ll be rewarded for your perseverance.
Nurture your precious succulents. Photo courtesy of Steam.
This game is maximum relaxation. Think going to a spa, on vacation, with absolutely nothing to worry about relaxing. This is the game you can return to over and over for some mindful meditation. Breathe in, breathe out and watch your plants grow.
In Viridi, you grow succulents. That’s it, you ask? Yes, and that’s enough. You pick pots and plant starters, and you nurture them just right. They need light and water, and if you name them they might even flower. You can pick up tips on real-world succulent tending, but more importantly, you can carve out some time in your day to just be.