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.
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.
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.
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.