Rise of neo-ruralism through video-games?

By Countryman, a fellow student in SciencesPo who prefers to use a pseudonym.

For quite a long time I have been a gamer. I was always keen on discovering new universes and new characters as many young people, especially boys, of my generation. I have good memories of me speaking with my friends in elementary and middle school, debating about what was the best Pokémon, so insignificant now, but so important back in the days.

Today, I still enjoy playing video-games, though I no longer have the time for big adventures like the Zelda series. I switched to smaller games, which also meant smaller and simpler universes. Recently, I found out a mobile game, Fishing Life. The character, unnamed, is hated by his boss. He decides to quit his job in an office in a big city after remembering how happy he was when he fished with his dad. Then, our man settles in a small wooden house, next to a lake, far from the city, and decides to become fisherman.

Behind this simple story, apparently only made to justify a mobile fishing game, there is a bigger trend that I have seen growing stronger since some years now. Games that involves a return to rural life are rising in popularity. It is particularly interesting, as gaming is an activity hugely popular within the middle-class, the heart of the French nation. Therefore, if we understand why there is a growing taste for « neorural games », maybe that will allow us to understand an unease of the majority of the population regarding city life! I’ll take as example a game that has known a great success, and that I have personally played, Stardew Valley (PC). What I’m going to do is try to describe what I feel when I play it, as a middle-class person.

Stardew Valley. A game where you manage a farm, and a quite unique social experiment. The games starts, the character, unnamed, decides to quit his office job to revamp a farm that he just inherited from his grandfather. The idea of saying bye to an office worker life and the relaxing music immediately create a certain ambience. It’s like a bubble around you that makes you forget all everyday life’s problems. And that’s quite disturbing. Is it a primary instinct that we all have inside of us? I don’t know, but it’s addictive.

The first thing you have to do is clear the field and gather resources, then the day passes and you have to make your character sleep. As a result, you start planning a bit more. You follow the quest that asks you to present yourself to the inhabitants of the neighboring village, everyone seems kind and naive. It’s like a perfect world where nobody wants to harm you. You feel part of a community.

The next day comes, and as it passes very fast you start planning days, weeks and seasons. Planning keeps you busy, it empties the mind, it makes life easy. At this point, you’re entwined by the apparent simplicity of the game. If you play with friends, it feels like a colocation. Spreading task to try to make some money and complete quests. Revamp the farm, explore old buildings, discover the map, then the mine. Make wheat grow, buy some sheep, and suddenly you ask yourself how it feels like to do your own wine…

This is what you feel when you play Stardew Valley. It gives you new ideas: go fishing, learn to tinker, to hunt or to cook. It also makes you imagine that you could be the character in this video game, sitting in a rocking-chair in front of your ranch, with a glass of your wine, finally able to peacefully think and see the concrete results of your work, which, contrary to popular belief, do not limit to a salary at the end of the month.

I’d now like to focus on WHY these feelings that I described are particularly appreciated by middle-class office workers. Do they allow them to escape from their routine? To me, it comes from the feeling of being excluded from the society, of being quite useless. A feeling which is, of course, absolutely not normal.

Without the middle-class, the State runs out of money, the supermarkets close their doors and the society collapses. I’d like to insist on that point. Contrary to what some in Sciences Po seem to believe, we’re far from being superior because we study here. As Erica Chen said in her last article, « living in the academic bubble limits our ability to actually see the reality ». If supermarkets close tomorrow, I doubt our degree will increase our chances of survival. It is not our ability to draft a good Constitution that’s going to save us.

But this feeling of exclusion, even if it’s not logical, exists, and is widespread in the society. One of the manifestations of the unease it creates could be the Gilets Jaunes movement in France. After all, it’s after a rise in the price of fuel, which affects car drivers (and who makes the most home-office car trips: the middle class!) that they started protesting!

Gilets Jaunes demonstrating on January 19th, 2019. Photographer : Thomas Bresson

People feel excluded because they don’t feel contributing to the wellness of their Nation. In fact, this word roughly means anything nowadays for most of our contemporary intellectuals. They dislike it because it involves having to be responsible for your nation and protect it. Nowadays, the French State doesn’t want to handle such a responsability, because it implies tough decisions.

How to feel protected when almost all your industry has gone to countries that allow child labor, with the benediction of the rulers, on the advise of the intellectuals and the lobbyists? How to feel protected in a country in which insecurity is rising? How to feel protected in a country where people can beat up policemen and firefighters without consequences ?

In Stardew Valley, as in other games that promote a return to ruralism, the player can feel at ease, and escape this feeling of uselessness and exclusion. He becomes part of a community, where he can feel protected and taken into account by its ruler. He can see the consequences of his acts (harvest his wheat, drink his wine, sitting in his rocking-chair).

Neo-ruralism, to me, is a willing for someone to come back to a life far from big cities, in small rural areas. It is a phenomenon that already exists in France. Paris has lost 60 000 inhabitants in five years, while the French population kept growing! People want to have meaningful jobs.

What the middle class wants is a more decentralized and prompt to listen political power, but at the same time, the central government shall take strong actions against everything coming from outside that threatens the French Nation in its unity and integrity. That means Paris shall use its huge influence on the whole territory to protect it, not submit it. People have to know they’re useful, and they have to be sure the State will protect them from foreign powers.

Our rulers have to come from the countryside. Paris is disconnected from France. Paris isn’t France. Parisians do not face the same problems. The fact is, our rulers have lived in Paris the majority of their lives. They forgot that Paris cannot give orders to the people and expect it to agree and obey immediately. This is the fatal conceit of French rulers. They thought all Frenchmen were as liberal as they were.

More importantly, the French head of State has to be way closer to the people. Not an « educated one » at all costs ! They ruled us for too long now. Someone who has done concrete achievements, not someone who spent his life thinking while the others worked to offer him bread and water in convenient supermarkets.

Therefore, people would feel way less excluded and finally listened to. It is not a question of income nor wealth. It is a question of seeing concrete results of your actions. It is, to me, the only thing that matters.

Citation: http://www.leparisien.fr/paris-75/les-parisiens-quittent-paris-les-raisons-d-un-exode-04-01-2019- 7981140.php

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