Here's the sad truth: earth isn't doing so hot. Most workable farmland has long gone to big corporations, and the soil is a means to an end; crops are rarely rotated, and industrial machinery that favors efficiency over preservation is rapidly turning fertile ground into dust. Between corporate greed and environmental collapse, there might be a difficult future ahead.
Grimdark futures and cyberpunk portraits of civilization lost to the worst parts of ourselves have been warning us about what could be, what will probably be, for the better part of 50 years now. Things aren't going well, but Morning Star, an upcoming farming game in the vein of Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, imagines a future after the shitty one. Morning Star asks if we can correct a cyberpunk dystopia with the same tools that bring us to it.
Developer Metkis prefers calling it the cultivation genre. Farming is only part of a greater personal journey. "They’re about cultivating a more meaningful existence or happiness through culture and appreciation of the world," he tells me. It's why the post-cyberpunk setting is so apt for an optimistic adventure. "It’s just past the dystopia. Something changed. It’s fertile ground for growth and rediscovery."
It may sound too cerebral for such a typically relaxing genre, but those familiar with cultivation games will find Morning Star's basic interactions easy enough to slip into. You'll spend most of your time 'growing' data using a specialized fleet of computers. But like soil, computers require maintenance. You'll need to fix them, replace old PCs, and install discrete software on all of them in order to harvest particular strains of data. Computers and software types vary, too, so you'll need to know how to use them all in order to get a decent data crop.
This isn't a bitcoin server farm sim though. Metkis says, "There’s a lore-bound reason why the data farming is important in this world and not necessarily nefarious." In other words, you're not some delusional cryptomaniac self-exiled to Puerto Rico in search of Pure Capital Gain™. Caring about others is key to survival in Morning Star.
Morning Star, like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, will feature its own community. This one's just set in a nearby cyberpunk borough. There, you can interact with the locals, building relationships and helping one another out. You'll be able to attend events and explore "cutting-edge investments", like automation or cooperation, as opportunities to streamline your data growth operations. It's where you'll find resources for your computer farm, too, so expect to visit often. "There are also investments you can make in the community as well, which can change the way you play," Metkis tells me.
Can the automation of labor fix our problems rather than amplify them? Can digital technology, a force that bleeds the earth of its resources, be used to preserve them? Can a functional, healthy, sharing community exist in the margins of a cyberpunk dystopia? They're big questions, and I get the feeling Metkis thinks they're worth asking, no matter how bad things look from our vantage.
"Meaningful work can be done anywhere in the world. The middle of nowhere isn’t the only place where culture can exist, or that life can be appreciated," he tells me. "The dark future still happened, but because of work, sacrifice, and no small amount of luck, you are not consigned to it. A message like that feels important now."
I so desperately want to think we're not screwed. Maybe Morning Star can do a bit more convincing. But whatever happens in the post-cyberpunk cleanup phase, Metkis and I both know one thing.
"Maybe it’s okay if we have a couple neon umbrellas around."
Above: The Untitled Publisher announcement at the 2018 PC Gaming Show.