Chores Are Boring — Except in Games
It’s a Sunday morning; you just woke up, got out of bed, and took a look at your disaster of a house. Your trash needs to be taken out, your dishes are filthy from last night, and your laundry pile is taller than your chairs. So what do you do?
You ignore the chores, boot up your computer, and start playing Stardew Valley.
I’m not judging, we’ve all done it.
There’s something truly magical about games like Stardew Valley or The Sims. The meat and potatoes of these games consist of mundane tasks like watering a field, feeding yourself, feeding your animals, and cleaning your bathroom.
So why would you rather do these things in a game rather than in real life, where it would actually benefit you? The answer to that can be broken down into a few key reasons.
Instant Gratification and Long-Term Goals
Stardew Valley is one of the most addicting games to come out in recent years. Players are more than willing to get up and water their plants day in and day out. There are two factors here that motivate the player; one is conscious, the other is subconscious.
Consciously, players will set personal goals for themselves to work towards and achieve. For example, I only have a few more days till that pumpkin is fully grown, and once it’s ready, I’ll turn it in to the Town Hall and unlock the beehive for my farm. Maybe from there I’ll make some mead out of it.
The other less-talked-about factor is instant gratification, which is something most players don’t even realize is happening. Eric Barone (ConcernedApe) has mastered the art of making people feel satisfied immediately when doing chores.
When you water a single plant in Stardew Valley, several very small visual and auditory cues happen:
- The water pours out of the can
- The plant shakes slightly
- The space darkens to show that it’s watered
And most importantly
- A very satisfying sound effect plays
I can (and will) write a full article on how important satisfying sound effects are in a game, but every single action in Stardew Valley is accompanied by a short serotonin-inducing sound. If you’ve played Stardew Valley, you could probably hear the distinct ‘pop’ when you pull a plant out of the ground if you imagined it. These sound effects are the same thing that make navigating a phone UI feel so good. It’s a type of feedback that subconsciously tells your brain that what you’re doing is good.
Satisfying sound effects are crucial to making chores – and anything else – feel good on a subconscious level
Break Up the Monotony
Even the most addicting repetitive tasks will feel, well, repetitive after a while. It’s very important that there are significant events and diversions to give the player a bit more variety. The Sims does this in the form of house designing. After having your Sim work day-in and day-out, your efforts to keep them alive finally pays off by earning you enough money to design your own home.
Designing a home takes a significant amount of time in The Sims. You get to choose your layouts, carpets, walls, furniture, lighting, art, everything. Once the designing is finished, you go back to the day-to-day life in your brand new home.
Or, if you get really bored, you can sell all your doors, fill the house with ovens and carpets, and light your Sims on fire. The player has the ability to shake it up every now in then to avoid getting tired of the chores of daily life.
Things Need to Move Quickly
Another major thing that makes game chores feel so much better than real chores is the amount of time it takes to perform them.
When you first start a new game of Stardew Valley, you’re met with a disaster of a field. There’s fallen trees and huge rocks everywhere, and the soil is overrun with wild grass. In a real-life scenario, it would take weeks to clean up a significant enough chunk of that land to start any actual farming. You’d need to rent a wood chipper, get a truck for hauling, load up wheelbarrows with rocks, cut through the grass, stub your toe, cry, and go to bed feeling very sorry for yourself.
In the game, you equip a tool, hit a button, and bam! Your land is clear and clean.
If doing the basic actions take longer than a split second, it’s taking too long.
Play Some Good Music
When I’m doing chores around the house, I like to crank up some music. This is no different in a game. In Stardew Valley, the seasonal music tunes are upbeat, catchy, and plain fun to listen to.
Having some tunes hand-made for doing work really helps the player get lost in the world of the game, and hours melt away like butter on a skillet. As I said, sound effects are important, but the combination of sound effects and music really take a game to the next level. After all, humans are naturally drawn to music.
- Make tasks gratifying on a subconscious level with visual cues and sound effects
- All tasks should contribute to a long-term goal
- Allow the player to switch it up a bit if they get bored
- Make tasks quick and snappy
- Get some catchy music playing in the background
So, what other games handle doing chores well? Tell me what you think in the comments!
Thank you very much for reading,