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This Farming Video Game Is So Popular, People Pay To Watch Gamers Play It

<em>Farming Simulator</em> is a realistic farming experience — minus bugs, droughts and disasters.
Giants Software
Farming Simulator is a realistic farming experience — minus bugs, droughts and disasters.

Updated June 22, 2021 at 3:30 PM ET

One of the joys of video games is the way they let the player experience a new world and do things they would never do in real life — and it turns out that includes the thrill of plowing a soybean field, the excitement of bailing hay and the exhilaration of harvesting wheat.

Harley Hand is getting ready for a day on the farm. "First let me jump in a combine," he says. "We have a soybean harvest, guys. We have a big harvest, a bunch of fields that are ready to go." He makes an adjustment to his equipment, and is on his way: "All right, let's roll."

That sound isn't a real combine, of course, because Hand isn't on a real farm. He is in front of his computer, in his house in rural Hazelhurst, Georgia, playing the game Farming Simulator and streaming the session online. He has more than 40,000 people following him on Facebook. Playing the game is his full time job, with some subscribers paying 5 dollars a month and others giving him tips while he plays. Hand says a lot of his interactions with his audience are about learning the ins and outs of farming. "It's a huge learning experience for a lot of people who come into my streams," he says. "I have got a lot of people who know nothing about farming and they come into the stream, and they're like, 'oh, really? That's how that works.' And it's pretty cool."

Farming Simulator covers a lot of ground, including buying equipment, choosing crops, plowing, planting, fertilizing and harvesting, not to mention options to raise livestock. A.K. Rahming is a gamer and writer who has reviewed Farming Simulator for the website PC Invasion. He says the game is a lot like real farming: "The monotony, the tediousness, the length of time it takes to plow a field in farming sim, it does give you an appreciation for what real farmers have to do, from my experience," he says,

Plow, plant and harvest your digital farm in <em>Farming Simulator.</em>
/ Giants Software
Giants Software
Plow, plant and harvest your digital farm in Farming Simulator.

Monotony? Tediousness? Not the kind of words you usually associate with something that people would do for fun. But the game's realism is a big reason why it's so popular. Some of the game's most avid fans are farmers. Wisconsin farmer Ryan Kuster says he can see why some people love the game. "Basically, it's your own little world where you can plan anything and everything that you want. I think this would be really useful for designing farm layouts, even." Kuster says it's real, but not too real. There's no droughts or floods or insect infestations.

The conditions aren't always perfect. But within the game, the conditions are always perfect. So it's almost like this fantasy, I get to do things in the digital realm that I didn't get to do in real life.

Shelbey Walker is an agricultural communications researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She's studied farmers and video games and has found some farmers use the game as a quintessential busman's holiday: They drive a real tractor all day and unwind by driving a virtual one at night. "The conditions aren't always perfect," she says. "But within the game, the conditions are always perfect. So it's almost like this fantasy, I get to do things in the digital realm that I didn't get to do in real life."

Walker says the game also attracts people like her who may not be farmers, but feel connected to agriculture because they grew up in rural areas or were in 4-H.

And In addition to streamers like Harley Hand, there is another outlet for rabid Farming Simulator fans: an eSports league. It's 2021 Farming Simulator season will end in November with a tournament in Hanover, Germany. The top prize is 100,000 Euros, more than many real farmers make in a year.

This story was edited for radio by Ken Barcus and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ