Debunking the American Dream in Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher asks us to examine our views on work and productivity.

Written by Jonathan Campoverde / Published on September 7, 2017

I started Monomi Park’s Slime Rancher thinking I would really enjoy the game: I love farm-simulation games because I appreciate the self-sufficiency of working a farm and the accomplishment each in-game day brings. From the outset, Slime Rancher promised to deliver a sense of accomplishment and tranquility as the ranch prospered. However, when I sat down to play, I slowly realized that I was not enough. On a ranch where I had to do everything myself, Slime Rancher brought me to a point where I realized: no matter how hard I work or how quick I am, something will remain undone around the ranch. No amount of picking myself up by the bootstraps and muscling through could fix that.

Exploring the world of Slime Rancher

"When I discovered that sleeping was optional, I realized that perhaps something was off with how this game views work."
The story of Slime Rancher is familiar even though the world of the Far, Far Range is not. The game puts you behind the eyes of a rancher named Beatrix LeBeau as she arrives at a rundown slime ranch on a planet far from Earth. As Beatrix, you explore the planet and discover all of the various slimes and food sources, while trying to unlock different areas both at the ranch and in the world. These tasks seems manageable at first but can quickly spiral out of control. Eventually, keeping up with the slimes became so time consuming that I couldn’t explore the world and still sleep at night.

When I discovered that sleeping was optional, I realized that perhaps something was off with how this game views work. If the only way to make everything work while still discovering new areas, unlocking new slimes, and building up the ranch was to skip sleep, then perhaps I needed to consider what the game was saying about productivity and effort. Little did I know that, while I was busy trying to criticize the game for promoting an unhealthy work ethic, Slime Rancher would shine a light on some of my own flaws.

Slime ranching

I am the kind of over-achieving person who will take on so many responsibilities that I will find myself worked to the bone to please the people who asked for my help. I feel affirmed when I can get everything done, so you can imagine why Slime Rancher would be my worst nightmare. The game is designed to make players prioritize which tasks they want to accomplish in a given timeframe. My wife decided that she would explore the world during the day and then maintain her ranch at night, opting not to let her character sleep in order to do all that she wanted to do. I quickly became frustrated, however, when I couldn’t fit both ranch maintenance and exploration into the game’s daytime. I want it all, I want it to be easy, and I don’t want to sacrifice anything to succeed.

In a sense, as I confronted my failings and selfishness, Slime Rancher underscored them.

"I feel affirmed when I can get everything done, so you can imagine why Slime Rancher would be my worst nightmare."
As you play Slime Rancher, Beatrix finds notes left behind by the ranch’s former owner, Hobson Twillgers. Through Hobson’s notes, a story unfolds as he describes his falling in love with another rancher named Thora. This love affair unfolds alongside his exploring the ranch and discovering a way to travel to the farthest reaches of the unknown to continue exploring the universe, and he has to make a choice in the end: Thora or exploration. One note explicitly references the tough choices Beatrix will face as she runs this ranch, for one region in the game has a set of doors of which only one can be open at a time. “Sometimes you gotta choose one path or another…” Hobson explains. “Either path you choose is gonna make you hurt some for want of walking the other.”

A slime

This is a lesson that I didn’t learn as a young adult. All I thought about was going to college, getting married, and achieving the American Dream. I didn’t realize that I would tether myself to making an income by going into debt while in college, that I would sacrifice some personal freedom by getting married, or that the American Dream doesn’t mean I get everything I ever wanted. I constantly have leave possibilities behind of what could’ve been. As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see people kicking and fighting to get everything they want—the proverbial having their cake and eating it too. The tension between the two mutually exclusive options creates intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts, and I add my fair share of tension to the mix.

Slime Rancher approaches this reality by making the player feel the tension before acknowledging it outright. When the game does acknowledge the tension through Hobson’s memoirs, I didn’t need to work to put myself in his shoes. I had already lived the constant struggle of sacrificing in one area to succeed in another. My slimes went hungry sometimes. My corrals and their auto-collectors overflowed to the point that it would take me a full twenty-four in-game hours to clean them all out. I lost crop after crop in my gardens because I didn’t harvest them in time. Things didn’t always get done, and I hated it. I hated Slime Rancher and the expectations it exposed in me, which in turn made me love it. For a simple farm simulation game, Slime Rancher has something to teach everyone who tries do to and have it all. You simply can’t.

About the Author:

Jon Campoverde spends most of his time reading and playing any game he can with the occasional writing project when he finds the time. You can find him on twitter at @jcamp_over_day.