By Jonathan Ahl
Harley Hand often starts his day by getting in a combine and heading out to one of his fields — but it’s not a real combine, field or farm.
He is one of several people who make a living playing the game Farm Simulator and streaming the game on platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.
“First, let me jump in a combine. We have a soybean harvest, guys. We have a big harvest, a bunch of fields that are ready to go,” Hand said to start a recent three-hour livestream of Farming Simulator to an audience of more than 200 people.
Even though only 1% of Americans are currently farmers, a lot of people identify with the agricultural lifestyle, and Farming Simulator has become another place where that community has found a home.
Hand, who isn’t a farmer but comes from a rural background, said many 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 said. “I have got a lot of people who know nothing about farming, and they come into the stream, and they are like, ‘Oh, really? That’s how that works.’ And it’s pretty cool.”
A full-time job
Playing the game can be a full-time job. Hand and several other streamers play the video game online almost daily with hundreds of people watching. There is also a Farming Simulator esports competition that has sponsored teams competing for cash prizes up to $250,000, a lot more than most farmers make in a year.
And some of the game’s most avid fans are farmers.
Shelby Walker, a southern Illinois native and currently a Ph.D. candidate in agriculture communications at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, researched the intersection between farmers and video games. Her work shows some people who drive a real tractor all day will unwind by driving a virtual one.
“The conditions on a farm aren’t always perfect. But within the game, the conditions are always perfect,” Walker said. “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, who grew up as an active member of 4-H, said the game also plays an educational role by attracting people who may not be farmers but feel connected to agriculture.
“I definitely think farmers do see the positives of this being a way for many people who are not aren’t within the industry to experience the industry,” Walker said.
Community over occupation
That sense of agricultural community may be at the heart of Farming Simulator’s appeal.
Hand said that compared to other video games, Farming Simulator's pace allows him time to connect with his audience.
“A game like farming simulator allows you to interact with the people who are watching you a lot better than if you are playing a game like Call of Duty. So you are really building a bunch of friendships, and you begin to get to know everyone who is there,” Hand said.Click here to see more...