If a video game lets you date — or better yet, marry — someone, count me in. I’ve had a lot of virtual boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives over the year, but I’ll never forget the first relationship I ever had. Harvest Moon 64 introduced me to a quintet of smart and strong women that would go on to inspire me in my real life as I grew older. But I’ll always hold a torch for the one I married, the soft-spoken Elli.
Harvest Moon is wish fulfillment for us urban folk who want to kick back in a small farming town for awhile. While no one has to get married in Harvest Moon 64, it feels wrong to choose the bachelor life instead. I certainly didn’t, despite being in fourth grade and very uninterested in crushes and boyfriends and kissing and all of those time-wasters.
The five eligible bachelorettes in Harvest Moon 64 (one of the few Harvest Moon games that only lets you play as a dude) work around town, and they each need vastly different things before they’ll even considering marrying you. Karen is the cool, quiet girl who likes it if you dance with her at the bar; single-mindedly cheerful Popuri is pretty much good with flowers alone.
The girls in Harvest Moon can often be boiled down to a single personality trait, but what I liked about Elli is that she was more than that. Wooing her was an actual challenge: Elli is a determined young baker who tries her best to take care of everyone around her. That most notably includes her grandmother, Ellen, her only family member in town and a major part of her story arc.
It’s a devastating plot line — in my game, Ellen ended up passing away, causing Elli to recede into herself and lose interest in dating, to my chagrin — and one that gives Ellie shades of gray that most of the other bachelorettes don’t have. It’s what I liked about her character; Elli was shy, introverted and self-conscious, much like me. Her warmth belied her loneliness, and she talked openly about insecurities. (Surrounded by pastries all day, Ellie unsurprisingly had some serious body image issues.)
If I couldn’t play as the one character I most related to, then of course I had to at least get her to live on my farm with me. And so the first dating sim I ever played taught me two important things: Sometimes, the best characters are the ones you don’t get to play as, but that you have to pursue instead. That was especially true as a woman growing up playing games and desperately looking for a role model. It’s why I still love games where finding love is just as important as fighting off monsters … or fixing up your farm, like in Harvest Moon.