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An essay on the disparity of gender roles in Harvest Moon

Lately I've been playing Harvest Moon on the Gameboy Advance. There are two versions of this game; one in which the main character is a boy, and one where it's a girl. In Japan these are appended "for boy" and "for girl." This clear distinction is muddied in the import subtitles, which are "Friends of Mineral Town" and "More Friends of Mineral Town," respectively.

As a series, Harvest Moon has been critiqued for sexism, so I was intrigued by this release. A previous game (Back to Nature) was the first to offer a choice of gender for your on-screen avatar, but the girls' version was dumbed-down in comparison, including a premature ending. The game is over when girls get married, whereas boys can continue to play indefinitely--and their wives dutifully stay at home and have a baby one year after the wedding. So, that's awesome.

By contrast, the gameplay in Friends of Mineral Town for Girls is supposed to be almost identical to the one for boys. They even added improvements, instead of taking features away! Progress! Just for fun, I fired up both games on my emulator to look for differences, and I was in for a treat right away. The opening stories are polar opposites of each other.

If you play as a boy, there's a touching tale about befriending an old farmer and fond memories of a rural vacation. After he dies, you inherit his farm. The game begins as you attempt to continue his legacy. That's nice.

Now here's the introductory sequence if you play as a girl. You dream of escaping the daily grind for a slow-paced life in the country. In the newspaper, you see a farm for sale and decide to buy it, sight unseen. Only when you arrive on the property do you realize that you have been suckered! The fields are littered with detritus and the buildings are in disrepair. Now you're out whatever money you spent, and since you already sold your apartment, you're stuck here. Stupid girl! To top off this heartwarming scenario, the mayor of the town comes out and laughs at you. Way to go, Harvest Moon. Stay classy.

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