One of the joys of video games is the way they allow the player to experience a new world and do things they would never do in real life – and it turns out that includes the thrill of plowing a soybean field, the excitement of emptying hay and the euphoria of harvesting wheat.
Harley Hand is getting ready for a day on the farm. “Let me jump in a combine first,” he said. “We’ve got a soy crop, guys. We’ve got a big crop, a bunch of fields that are ready to go.” He makes an adjustment to his gear, and sets off: “Okay, let’s roll.
This sound isn’t a real combine, of course, because Hand isn’t on a real farm. He’s at his computer at his rural home in Hazelhurst, Georgia, playing Agriculture simulator and broadcast the session online. He has over 40,000 people following him on Facebook. Playing the game is his full-time job, some subscribers pay $ 5 a month and others tip him while he plays. Hand says a lot of his interactions with his audience involve learning the ins and outs of farming. “It’s a huge learning experience for a lot of people who come into my feeds,” he says. “I have a lot of people who don’t know a thing about farming and they come into the creek, and they’re like, ‘oh, really? This is how it works. “And that’s pretty cool.”
Agriculture simulator covers a lot of ground, including buying equipment, choosing crops, plowing, planting, fertilizing and harvesting, not to mention options for raising livestock. AK Rahming is a player and writer who saw Agriculture simulator for the PC Invasion site. He says the game is very similar to real farming: “The monotony, the fatigue, the time it takes to plow a field in an agricultural simulation, it gives you an idea of what real farmers have to do, after my experience, “he says,
Monotony? Weariness? Not the kind of words you usually associate with something people would do for fun. But the realism of the game is one of the main reasons it’s so popular. Some of the game’s most avid fans are farmers. Wisconsin farmer Ryan Kuster says he can see why some people like the game. “Basically it’s your own little world where you can plan whatever you want. I think it would be really helpful for designing farm layouts, even.” Kuster says it’s real, but not too real. There are no droughts, floods or insect infestations.
Shelbey walker is a researcher in agricultural communication at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She studied farmers and video games and found that some farmers use the game as the quintessential busman vacation – they drive a real tractor all day and relax while driving a virtual tractor at night. “The conditions are not always perfect,” she said. “But in the game the conditions are always perfect. So it’s almost like this fantasy, I can do things in the digital realm that I couldn’t do in real life.”
Walker says the game also attracts people like her who may not be farmers, but who feel connected to farming because they grew up in rural areas or belonged to 4-H.
And besides streamers like Harley Hand, there’s another outlet for rabid Farming Simulator fans: an eSports league. Farming Simulator season 2021 will end in November with a tournament in Hanover, Germany. The first prize is 100,000 euros, more than many real farmers earn in a year.
This story was edited for radio by Ken Barcus and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.