Catching Frogs

So you can catch frogs in whatever latest version of the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series I have (the 3DS one). On rainy days these little polygon dudes will be out and hopping around and you can crouch down and pick them up if you press the right button while close enough to them. Much has been written about the long history of frogs in games and I also had a bit of a fixation myself as a child, so that’s probably why I became really fond of this mechanic.

In Story of Seasons frogs function the same as items, as in, they just sit and stack in your inventory indefinitely, which is a bit weird because there are other wild animals you can interact with (like birds or rabbits) that have a variety of feeding and affection parameters and can’t just be unceremoniously shoved in your pocket. So I ended up picking up and lot of frogs because I enjoyed the action (especially the satisfying little bwoop noise) but I wasn’t even sure what the intended purpose of this action was.

Peeling back into the game’s meta, looking through online guides and so on I wasn’t able to find much of an answer. You can sell them for a small amount of money. Some villagers like them but no one REALLY likes them. More seem to dislike them. They are almost useless early in the game and quickly become entirely irrelevant. In the eyes of playing the game “correctly” that is, making a lot of money, unlocking everything and expanding your farm to the maximum, many of the scores of items in this game are extremely useless. There is always a best cash crop to invest your time in for each season, the rest are curiosities, the same is true for almost every item category.

The game almost wants you whittle down the broad variety of options it presents you through trial and error to create an ideal farm that would function in roughly the same way as any other players’ if they also take this route. What is all the other game content? In-world junk? There’s a lot of useless junk in real life, yeah, but the idea of “junk” is kind of a subjective, personal judgement. And a lot of things that are junk now had a use at one point and were probably not made with the eventual junk function in mind. All crap aspired to eternity at one point, maybe, or at least a revival in value on eBay years later.

In games this sort of junk is actually highly regimented and planned in a way that I can only really compare to the piles of weird swag like screen cleaners and pizza cutters and mobile phone stands that just seem to end up getting shoved in your hand and immediately feel like a burden. The list of items available in the game Story of Seasons is overwhelming but at the same time it feels incredibly controlled in terms of how each item can be used. So of course some of this is planned to be just junk. But it still has to be given a strict value and parameters out of the gate.

Tree Frog. It can be found in Forest Road, Piedmont, Zephyr Hill, and Riverside Pasture in Spring, Summer, and Fall between 6:00 and 20:00, only in rainy weather. 20 g.

This is junk with a predetermined karmic energy and destiny that is inescapable.

I feel like when you become interested in games as mechanical systems this kind of junk becomes irrelevant even though it is just as much a piece of the document as when and where is the best time to upgrade your sword. I mean, that’s how games create motivation, right? That’s why they’re compelling, RIGHT? Because you can make the numbers go up and win. And in this way the production of videogame junk is kind of a capitalist daydream. What if we could not only offer commodities, and present them as having some kind of inherent quality through publicity/flavor text but also have them display a guaranteed, quantifiable effect. What if that Rolex ad could also say +3 respect, +4 getting laid. Of course this is dismissed as soon as they realize that the value of commodities often depends on their promise not being fulfilled but it is still a tempting sort of scenario if you’re into that kind of thing/drink soylent.

Regardless I still really like catching the frogs even though it is a useless action. It just aesthetically feels nice to make my farmer crouch down in the grass while there’s the soft sound of rain and a river flowing in the background, hunch over this little tiny leaping blob and absorb it into my inventory. Bwoop.

In light of things like gamification and flow which seem to be trying to reduce a “pleasing gameplay experience” to a mathematical formula, on a personal level I’m trying to resist that and rediscover what things in games feel good in different ways. I’m not particularly bright when it comes to the new Story of Seasons. An overwhelming abundance of items to buy and options to expand my farm and increase my capabilities become available with anxiety-inducing regularity. I could do without all of that but what really feels good is the sense of routine and progression, guiding your plants through seed to sapling to fruit and then harvesting and preparing for the next seasonal cycle. I can lose myself for hours in that. There’s a lot of gameplay styles out there that shy away from the optimization reflex a lot of games encourage and seem to be more based on, for lack of a less Kantian term, disinterested pleasure. Drinking a coffee in Animal Crossing. The sensation of a constructed and rational world whizzing by nonsensically in a game-breaking speedrun. Catching frogs.

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