This is Landwirtschafts-Simulator, aka Farming Simulator. It's an insanely popular German video game that — as you might have guessed — lets you pretend to be a farmer.
You spend hours plowing, sowing, and watering your field. Then you harvest your crops and sell them so you can buy more farming equipment. That's pretty much it.
So, how popular is this Farming Simulator game? VERY. In 2016, it was Germany's sixth–best-selling game of the year, beating out Call of Duty (and giving Grand Theft Auto a run for its money).
This past August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel played the game at Gamescom, a video game conference.
Not much of a farmer? There are tons of other simulator games available. You can drive a garbage truck, a city bus, or a train. Want to operate a crane or run a lumber mill? There's a simulator for that.
Naturally, since I'm currently in Germany, I had to give it a try. Here's how it went.
First, you get to pick whether you want a generic Scandinavian farm or a generic American farm.
Now, I may look like a superstar wheat farmer, but I should tell you it took me, like, THREE HOURS to figure out how to do anything besides drive my tractor into a house.
Mostly, I just drove around my farm aimlessly trying to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do.
A bunch of my coworkers (including one Farming Simulator aficionado) tried to help me. But god, I really suck at this game.
Here's the funny thing about Farming Simulator: It seems like it would be a lot easier to figure out (and a lot more fun) if you're...actually a farmer.
I'm serious! A lot of people in Germany enjoy playing the simulator version of their actual job. Here are a few Amazon reviews:
"Good game if you like farming you will love it."
"It is very lifelike, I should know as I have been a Sugar and Soybean farmer for 40 years."
"Kids play hours on this game. We are farmers, so the love of agriculture is in their blood."
"I feel like a farmer."
To succeed at the game, you have to know (or eventually figure out) what dozens of farming tools do.
Eventually (after quitting my game, switching to "easy" mode, bugging all my coworkers, watching a bunch of YouTube tutorials, and, ahem, actually reading the directions), my farming skills began improving. I even harvested and sold some wheat!
Now I felt a bit more confident in my farming abilities, but I was still really fucking bored. So I bought 57 chickens.
Then I did a little off-roading, but this stupid wholesome game wouldn't even let me crash my tractor!!!
I switched vehicles and wound up getting stuck on a fence. Then I switched vehicles again and promptly got that one stuck on an ATM.
Finally, feeling resigned, I gave up and spent the rest of my money on a cow. Her name is Emma and I love her.
So, what are my final takeaways?
When I first heard about Farming Simulator, I found it baffling that this game could be so popular. Now, after playing it for several hours, I am...still pretty baffled.
If you're looking for a game that's slow-moving and a bit meditative, I could maaaybe understand being into this, but it took so long to figure out that it only stressed me out. I can't imagine getting good at the game without playing it for hours, or even days.
I will say, there is something kind of sweet about these simulators.
You're not shooting civilians or stealing cars or bombing stuff like you would in a lot of video games — you're just tending to your crops, or collecting the neighbor's garbage, or driving people to work on time. You're doing a normal job, maybe the job you do in real life. And you get to be the hero in your own story. Boring or not, I have to admit, that's pretty awesome.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go murder an entire family of Sims.