This farming sim is an exercise in letting go of trauma

Aka asks his dying friend to stay with him.

screenshot: Cosmo Gatto / Kotaku

Every year there is at least one game that makes me so emotional that I start crying. For me it’s this year Also known, a game about recovery from past violence and trauma. It takes place in a light farming sim with cute characters, each with a problem to solve as you try to build a life of peace for yourself and those around you. I find Also known being funny and charming on its own while being a portal to inner reflection.

Available now for PC and Nintendo Switch, Also known is a very simple open world farming game with an endearing narrative and characters. It first appeared on our radar as a demo during the Steam Next Fest in October and it’s ultimately about leaving dark, violent days behind to build a brighter future. Although other farming sims offer more detailed farm life simulations, spend time playing games Also known In a way, it was more about spending time with myself and thinking about how best to move on from my own most difficult years.

In Also known You play as an anthropomorphic red panda named Aka – not a fox or a red raccoon, he’s quick to remind you – who was once a soldier in a war. You begin by leaving the battlefield and sailing to Pine Island, a place your friend Thom promises will be an opportunity to leave violence and suffering behind. They arrive at its shore and realize there is so much work to be done. Garbage washes up, the land is overgrown and littered with traps, and many other anthropomorphic animals are in a state of peril that requires your intervention.

Aka says he needs an ax to free some creatures.

screenshot: Cosmo Gatto / Kotaku

The people of Pine Island and the neighboring islands you will explore each have different needs and desires, like a wolf caught in a trap in need of magical healing, a ghost of someone too afraid of what caused her suffering making her keep going, or just a cool dog who’s out of coconuts and bananas and wants to make the most epic smoothie ever made. Some just want to play music, and you can jam along with them via a rhythmic mini-game. Others just want to lie on the beach and stare at the clouds. You too can join them. No matter where you go or who you help, two things are clear: this is a peaceful place, and Aka is finally getting a chance to put his troubled memories of war behind him. Perhaps this is all a reminder of what you too can leave behind as a player.

The actual farming elements and the game mechanically as a “video game” might not be meaty enough if you’re looking for more hardcore sim stuff. (And if that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend it the definitive hardcore simulation game, dwarven fortress).

The farming gameplay itself merely does the work. It’s sometimes difficult to align seeds exactly how you want them on a given plot. The menus are not very intuitive to navigate and are a bit buggy at times. The day/night cycle feels like it’s going by a little too quickly. And other little quirks, like having to actually stop to pick up an object (you can’t just hit the pick-up button while running over something). Also known a bit too simple and sometimes even awkward to recommend as a farming sim. But that’s probably not what you should be looking for Also known.

Aka talks to a dog who has ambitions to make an incredible smoothie.

screenshot: Cosmo Gatto / Kotaku

Farming, crafting, and errands are a satisfying loop. Quests like fixing your boat or finding a carrot for a snowman give you objectives to pursue, but they’re all very simple. The heart of the game is meeting characters that are either thought provoking or in need of empathy. It is these encounters that help Also known a deeply contemplative experience that keeps me coming back.

I can’t help but think about my own past trauma while playing Also known. “The war is over,” says an opening prompt. Soft, peaceful music follows over seductive art. I talk to different characters who sometimes have their own painful memories Aka’s war, I think of my own battles. For me, these have mostly been on myself and have spread to cause collateral damage to those around me. but Also known reminds me that my wars are also largely over now.

Having transitioned from one gender to another later than I would have ideally preferred, I spent most of my own “better” years in conflicting, cryptic agony. And I have fought in many battles – against myself and against others. It’s hard not to read Aka Witz Thom’s noteThe promise of a more peaceful opportunity at Pine Island was exactly what I was looking for as I neared the end of my life in secret. Aka’s own transition from a soldier to a farmer and problem solver is a journey from pain to peace, and like my real-life transition, it’s not just a lonely act, but one that’s accomplished through finding empathy and building connections – community – is achieved with others.

Aka thinks of his friend who has since died.

screenshot: Cosmo Gatto /. kotaku

I catch myself playing Also knowndoing chores, farming and crafting to make Aka’s life and the lives of the other characters a little bit brighter so I can hang out on the beach with a hippo named Daydreamer and stare up at the clouds. Or just jam out to a few tunes with Kenny the musical koala. It’s a reminder that trying to be there for others in need is valuable and makes a difference; and that all the time I spend crafting and designing is an act of recreation.

And it’s in that borderline where Also known‘s story and my own life somehow become entangled. I wonder if I’ll do the same here. By playing a game as a red panda running around to clean up a fictional island and improve the lives of others, I find inspiration to clean up and get through my own difficult days, always remembering that the act of letting go is the world around me for those who are in it.

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