The Wii was my first console, and Natsume’s Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility was my “first” game — or, at least, the first game that I was ever any good at. My family owned other games; 11-year-old me was a Mario Kart Wii menace. However, there was something about Tree of Tranquility that made me start banishing other games to my backlog, long before I even knew what a backlog was. Over the next 10 years, I abandoned other games I knew I’d enjoy, leaving them in my “pile of shame” — even as my favorite game’s sheen began to dull.
Tree of Tranquility isn’t a particularly innovative or progressive game. However, it was one that I could play well, and as a pre-teen, that meant something. Even as a kid, I struggled with games that required quick timing, dexterity and advanced hand-eye coordination. To be fair, that describes most video games. At the time, I knew I could excel at just two things: rhythm games, like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and games that prioritized patience over skill, like Tree of Tranquility.
The premise of Tree of Tranquility isn’t particularly notable, especially compared to similarly farming-focused Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons) games. Drawn to Waffle Island by the promise of a “ranching paradise,” you’re gifted a farm and free reign of the island. In addition to being responsible for expanding your property, finding a partner and raising your family, you have one more task: rebuild all five of the island’s rainbow bridges vy bringing ingredients to the island’s Harvest Sprites, in order to restore the Harvest Goddess and the Mother Tree.
I’ve played it at least 10 times now, and once-difficult challenges like gathering rare items are now little more than rote tasks. I don’t even feel the romantic spark as I repeatedly unload tomato products on my perpetual in-game husband, Gill, while trying to get him to like me enough to trigger his special romantic moments. Despite the lack of novelty, I played Tree of Tranquility over and over again for a decade. I chose it over all other games, even new ones I picked up with the intention to try something else.
A particular blend of nostalgia and an unwillingness to let go of my adolescence sequestered me on Waffle Island for years. Tree of Tranquility was instrumental to making me the internet citizen and fan that I am today, and served as my gateway to organized fandom and fanfiction. It was through perusing YouTube videos of Gill and Angela, the female player character, that I was first introduced to fan community, and through searching for more fan content that I found both DeviantArt and Fanfiction.net. These big three sites — YouTube, DeviantArt, and Fanfiction.net — served as my primary means of accessing fandom until I joined Tumblr and Twitter in 2013.
What I’m trying to say here is that I’ve got a lot of sentiment wrapped up in my infatuation with Tree of Tranquility. Enough, at least, that I let every Animal Crossing game released since 2010 and other genre standouts like Stardew Valley fall into my backlog without a second thought. This attachment, coupled with the fact that I didn’t own a console or have a functioning method to play PC games until recently, made the decision of what to play relatively simple whenever I did get console access.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t branch out into other games — I spent a large part of one summer spent at my parents’ home being very bad at Overwatch — but any kind of romance or farming-focused game that should have been right up my alley was added to the end of the queue, while I took advantage of spare time to relax with what I knew best. Why forage forward when I could marry the same NPC for the eighth time in a row?
It’s now been 10 years since I started playing Tree of Tranquility, and I’ve finally started to move on. After fully moving out of my parents’ house a year ago, I lost access to my family’s Wii and therefore Tree of Tranquility. Even when I visit, there’s not enough time to effectively play a runthrough.
My adolescence is officially over, so I’m also breaking down the proverbial dam that’s contained my backlog for so long. I have a console that’s entirely mine for the first time ever (a Switch). Stardew Valley was the first game that I bought out of sheer determination to move on. Harvest Moon is no longer my conduit to fandom (it hasn’t been for years), and I’ve reached a point where teenage nostalgia isn’t enough to keep me completely engaged in a plot that I’ve played 10 times already.
Digging into these landmark games and the sentiment that they hold is important, but it’s critical to eventually move on — in addition to the fact that there are countless games in the world just waiting to be played, nostalgic sentiment is most potent when there’s at least some time and distance between yourself and the object of your attachment. Running Tree of Tranquility into the ground with constant playthroughs will eventually lessen my affection, and truthfully, the process has already begun. All relationships require some modicum of distance — how am I supposed to remember Tree of Tranquility fondly when I haven’t even given myself time to reminisce? Even if I’m only moving from Waffle Island to Stardew Valley’s Pelican Town, it’s time to take one step back into my now plentiful backlog and another step forward into the future.