Backstage Tales – Harvest Time

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This was me over the weekend!

Sure, Pac-Man has his pellets, Mario has his Stars, and Sonic has his rings. But my strange obsession with the modern definition of “farming” for digital items in video games started a bit differently.

Imagine ten-year old me playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time after school (no, I had not done my homework, stop asking). The fishing minigame at Lake Hylia could only be described as pure relaxation, coupled with extreme frustration when the largest fish in the pond would continually ignore my lure. I have great memories at age twelve of finally understanding the Junction system in Final Fantasy 8 and scouring the Islands between Heaven and Hell for the most powerful magics in the game. And, of course, I’ll never forget fishing and treasure hunting in Dark Cloud 2.

And then came the creative survival games with their in-depth crafting systems, and made farming for some items a matter of life or death. After all, a man’s gotta eat, and not just for a stat boost. Minecraft makes this pretty clear; you’ll be munching on steaks, porkchops, and loaves of bread if you want to stay alive for very long underground or in the Nether. And diamonds aren’t just a girl’s best friend. No, they’re everybody’s best friend, and diamond armor is your best friend in hard mode.

No Man’s Sky (a game I’m very interested to write about comparing how it started at release verses where it is now) is big on this list of survival games, since in order to thrive you must harvest almost everything you come across in its vast universe. The game’s next big update (which, incidentally, is called NEXT and is said to include multiplayer) releases on Tuesday. It might take me a while to digest it all, so stay tuned for that 100-Hour Review, because I already know it’s going to be that big.

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Me and my buddy Crafter on the Meraki server!

MMOs changed the way we farm for items, and I’m not strictly talking about farming dungeons and killing bosses for the best gear. I’m talking about hunting for items that the denizens of these worlds would consider “everyday items”. Or, perhaps, not so everyday, depending on your skill level. Fishing, mining, chopping trees, weaving fabric, tanning leather, fashioning weapons of war… You know, the essentials in times of war and political turmoil.

Every MMO handles crafting a bit differently, with each having its own set of strengths and weaknesses. The Elder Scrolls Online: One Tamriel, for instance, has resources scattered all across the map, which you can always gather if you find the nodes; the resources scale with your crafting skill, meaning you could find elite rank materials while your level one friend would find common materials in the same area. I think this makes for fantastic MMO design for inviting brand new players, but it does leave immersion behind (why can I find cotton plants in Hammerfell and Morrowind at the same time but then level up and find them nowhere) and leave you at the mercy of guild stores if you ever want to craft a lower level piece of armor or weapon.

Final Fantasy XIV and Star Wars: The Old Republic, on the other hand, have leveled areas (or planets) where you can find level-specific materials for every crafting class, and if you ever need to level up your crafting or gathering skill, you can always visit these areas again for additional materials. In reality, this makes a lot of sense. On the downside, you’ll be looking up online chart after online chart trying to search for that one resource you’ve been looking for, and it will never seem to be in the spot you’d think it would be. (For example, the honest-to-goodness description of faerie apples in Final Fantasy XIV is: “A tart variety of apple commonly found growing in the cool mountain passes of Coerthas.” I thought: “Cool. I’ll wait until I level up to the mid-30s and get to Coerthas to gather them.” But no. It is found nowhere in the cool mountain passes of Coerthas. Instead, it’s found in the temperate forests of the Shroud, much earlier in level than the description describes. Thanks, game. Maybe now I’ll be able to make and sell my apple tarts in peace.)

Farming in MMOs (and the mind-blowing amount of items corresponding to each gathering and crafting skill tree) is a time sink. But it is a time sink that strangely benefits the player. Want a really powerful item? Spend time developing this crafting skill, and you can have it without having to kill a really powerful monster or have to accomplish an impossible quest for it. Not only that, but farming gives the player control over the items they want to create and sell on the player market. You can spend as little or as much time farming as you want. There is an optimal way to level up, sure, but I’ve never really been into min-maxing my time like that. After all, I spent about the first sixty hours of Final Fantasy XIV not crafting a thing, and it didn’t really affect me in the slightest. Go kill those monsters and beat those quests. But if you want the best gear in the game, though, really high-quality gear that you can use or sell to other players and make a profit, then crafting is how you’re going to do it.

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The ever-stalwart miner, searching diligently for silver ore. You know, for making earrings that will boost my mining abilities. Because style is EVERYTHING.

Why do I tolerate farming? Why is the grind something that doesn’t set my normally-anxiety-driven brain into overload, constantly worrying about the time I’m wasting performing such menial tasks?

Well, truth is, even to this really laid-back guy, it does. Whenever my pickaxe comes across a particularly difficult resource node and clunks (meaning I don’t receive experience or materials), my heart drops. But boy, when I encounter that resource node that boosts my gathering rate and gives me high-quality materials one after another, it really makes you think, “Okay, that node made up for the last failure, maybe I can keep chugging along.” And unless you follow a guide to know exactly how much of any particular material is necessary for other crafting skill lines, you won’t really know when to stop. After all, the worse thing in the world to someone who already thinks farming is a waste of time is discovering you’ve run out of the resource too early and have to go back to farming it.

Or, *gasp*… Knuckle down and buy it on the market.

But then, pretty soon your gathering skills level up! Your ability to gain the resources you need are greater than before. You find what you need, the resource you’re collecting doesn’t help you level quite like it did before, and it’s time to find a new place with new materials.

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Come, Dread Pig! Your sweet bacon (and its EXP bonus) will be mine!

Farming in The Elder Scrolls was something you did as you played the game. To be honest, farming in ESO sucks. If you managed to concentrate hard on your environment, farming in The Old Republic is tolerable and helped with companion missions. But in Final Fantasy XIV, it’s almost its own multi-appendage arm of the game, something you have to go out of your way to develop, and it’s kind of endearing in a realistic and sometimes frustrating way. You have to choose to develop your gathering skills as well as the crafting skills that utilize all the materials you gather.

Can I tell you how difficult it is to sit down and pick a profession to improve when the professions themselves depend on so many different kinds of items? Sure, I can just buy all the things I need to level up from the player’s market. But screw that, I need to save my money, not spend it! In order to level as a weaver, I needed help from a carpenter and a goldsmith, and to level them, I needed help from a miner, a botanist, a leatherworker, and an armorer. Pretty soon, all of these jobs were requiring different resources from each other!

I may be wrong, but if you only remain one thing in your life and never discover and develop other talents, you’ll probably find life to be much more bland and difficult. For example, as a writer, I am expected to be an expert voice about every subject I write about, whether I actually know my stuff or not. In my previous work experiences, I wrote about everything from water purification and automotive repair to long-distance medical services and the benefits of essential oils. Was I 100% accurate about these topics? I hope so, but I doubt it. Those skill trees had not been fully developed. But on this blog, talking about video games, art, and mental therapy, I’m in my happy place, and my well-practiced skill lines of video game design, Photoshop, cosplay, and entertaining prose intertwine to present something I can be proud of. Farming and crafting work in the very same way.

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We’ve struck gold! Er… silver!

Does farming in an MMORPG like Final Fantasy XIV or a survival game like Minecraft make me a better person?

I think that’s the wrong question to ask of video games in general. “Is it a waste of time?” is a better question.

My answer? Same answer for this question: “Is my blog a waste of time to me?”

Absolutely not. Why? It’s a distraction from the harsh realities of this life, a comfortable space to retreat to when my mind is on the fritz, and a way to have fun on my own or with others. Sometimes the weight of the world is too much. When it gets that way, it’s time to pick up the digital pickaxe and go mining for digital ore. Turn on some inspirational music and let the time fly by.

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