I remembered this article while applying for a TV documentary; some of these numbers were far, far too low.

When Simon Adcock told me about Harvest Moon on the GameBoy Colour years ago, I remember laughing at him and telling him a farming game sounded boring.

Clearly I was a very, very foolish youth, but I believe I’ve made up for lost time. However, exactly how much time has been lost to one of the largest timesinks ever? Let’s see.

Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life

This is the first Gamecube version of Harvest Moon – HM: Magical Melody is due in March 2006, which is brilliant – and happens to be phenomenally addictive. It’s so addictive, in fact, that I’m on my second copy as my first one decided to get itself a new owner. Anyway, let’s take a look at the figures…

Each day in HM:AWL takes about half an hour or so, and there are 40 days in a year. Therefore, each year is about 20 hours of gameplay time; quite a considerable amount. I am currently about to finish my fifth full year on the farm (I’ve done a whole year in the past week or so), which means I’ve put about 100 hours into it. That is officially “a lot.”

Now let’s take a look at the handheld version, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. Again, I’m on my second copy of this as my US version (brought across from America – best. Birthday present. Ever.) wouldn’t connect with my European HM:AWL. The days are much shorter in FoMT – about ten minutes, if that – but there are 120 of them in a year. So that’s about 20 hours a year again (funny how that works out!). I seem to think I was on my fifth year in my first version, and now I’m in the Summer of my third year, so that’s about two and a half years. Seven-and-a-half times twenty is about one hundred and fifty hours – that’s a lot of bus and train journeys, not to mention entire days laid waste to its inescapably addictive charms.

So, as a very rough estimate, about 250 hours of my life have been sacrificed to the deities of Harvest Moon. In that time, I could have:

Finished one novel and started a sequel;
Tested the limits of human endurance by going without sleep for over ten consecutive days;
Earned over £1,000 working a crappy minimum-wage job;
Probably cracked PSO Ultimate mode;
Improved as a musician by an inconceivable amount;
Thought at great length about how to improve the world, and come up with several clever ideas for implementation;
Actually done something.

The third point is quite a pertinent one, really. I’m not one for jobs, as you know, but to think that I could have actually earnt some real money instead of in-game gold is quite funny, really. Doing any of these things, however, wouldn’t have earnt me any genuine insight into the world of farming, which I value above (most of) these.

If that’s what I could have done in the time I spent playing just TWO games – about FARMING, for fuck’s sakes! – how much more could I have got done if I hadn’t played ANY games? Well, to calculate that I’d need to work out how many hours I’ve spent playing games in total, which isn’t really possible. Here are some fairly general figures, though:

About 250 – 300 hours on Phantasy Star Online;
About 300 – 400 hours on the Shining Force III trilogy (I think – this one is hard to work out, really);
About 50 – 100 hours on Transport Tycoon Deluxe and Locomotion (just a guess, really; probably much higher);
Somewhere in the region of 100 hours on various Sonic games (probably much more, but about 50+ on Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2) this is a joke. 100 hours on Sonic games? That needs doubling at least. We’ll go for 250.
70 or so hours on Paper Mario and Skies of Arcadia Legends (combined).
Pokémon Ruby, FireRed and Colosseum have sapped about 200 hours or so.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash! (Best. Game. EVER.) – 52 hours.

I can’t imagine the amount spent on all the other games combined – NiGHTS, Burning Rangers, Mario Party, Fire ProWrestling, WarioWare Inc., Shining Soul, SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium, Neo TurfMasters (LOTS of hours in those two) have all sucked a lot too.

By now I think I should be beginning to realise exactly what my gaming addiction has cost me in terms of money, friends, skills and tangible achievements, but in truth, I can’t help think about how truly awesome these games are, and how happy I am to have spent so much time with them. I know, it’s super-geeky, but it’s the truth. Pretty much all the games I’ve mentioned here are masterpieces or very close to them, and are all brilliant experiences I’m more than happy to have enjoyed. For the purposes of closure, however, let’s try and put a figure on it.

Total hours spent gaming (taking a median value where I’ve made vague guesses):

About 2,500 or so.

I originally said about 2,000, but that’s pathetic. It’s probably even above 3,000, but I’ll go for 2,750. Edit – every time I look at this number it seems far too small. I think that’s partly because I want to feel my time has been worth more than £15,000, but I think I’ve also been quite inaccurate. I don’t get much time to game any more, so it’s strange that this number should keep rising so significantly, but it’s mostly a reflection of my attempts to pin down a final, definitive answer.

3,500 hours x £5.50 = £19,250

That’s still shit. I’m glad I stuck with my games.