I’ve been playing a lot of Stardew Valley.
Like most things, I got to Stardew Valley late. The game has been out for more than a year and despite Steam Sales and fantastic word of mouth, I only recently purchased a copy for myself. You see, my wife got a new computer and since she likes Animal Crossing, I decided she might like another farming/village simulator.
She’s played it for a little bit and moved on. I’ve played it for weeks.
When I was younger, the PlayStation 2 got a port of the Sims and I got addicted for a week. That fire eventually died and I moved on to more complicated simulation games like Civilization IV and such. I figured since I missed the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing craze, I was pretty much safe from the farming/life simulator genre. I was wrong.
The game opens with you receiving your own run -down farm from your grandfather. This gift frees you from the 9 to 5 world of cubicles and city life. Let me tell you, I’m at the point of my life where I don’t know what I want to do and where I want to live. I’ve got my 9 to 5 job and regularly scheduled life and I’ve found the whole experience unsatisfying. Not bad, mind you, and it’s extremely helpful in allowing me to do some things I want and have dogs and a roof over my head and etc. But, I found the opening of the game to be highly effecting.
In a way, it’s a meta opening. Your character is given a change to get away from the world and fix up his farm and start a new life. The player, in turn, is given a virtual farm that helps them escape from the busy day to day of life. More than most games, I’ve found Stardew Valley to be one of the most relaxing games I’ve played.
Which, is ironic because you stay b-u-s-y in the game. Days move by quickly, with hours gone in minutes due to the in-game clock. There’s never enough time in a game’s day to do all I want. Each time my character wakes up, I have to choose what my day will look like. Will I farm and milk my cows and plant new crops? Will I spend the day fishing and gathering? Or will I spend hours in the mines, fighting off slimes and digging for gold?
There’s so much that I can imagine some players only doing specific things their whole play through. Me? I like doing a bit of everything and see all there is to see. As my second year in the game rolls around, I’m more excited for my crop choices and barn expansions. And I still want to do more.
The characters are probably the secret weapon in this game. Goals are nice and designing my farm is fun but the people you meet in town give it personality. I’ve played games that are huge in scope but only leave me feeling lonely because the characters I meet are empty vessels of conversation trees and quest markers. But each villager you interact with in Stardew Valley has their own goals, regrets and personal journey. Romancing has a simple charm to it, people falling in love through gift giving, but there’s a story to it all. AS you learn more about each character, you want to know more and soon you’re trying to unlock all possible stories.
When my wife has gone to bed and I’m left with the choices of what to do with the night, it all comes back to Stardew Valley. Nothing feels as relaxing as sitting at the beach while trying to catch squid or exploring the depths of the mines looking for Purple Mushrooms. Nothing feels quite as satisfying as harvesting quality potatoes or producing duck egg mayonnaise. Maybe this is more of a critique of my current life, my current contentment. It’s not like I want to own a farm myself.
But the Super Nintendo graphics are so charming, the music is so relaxing and the characters you meet are unique and funny that it’s almost a convincing pitch of farm life. And it keeps you coming back. I enjoyed Prison Architect but, after finishing the campaign modes, I haven’t returned. Stardew Valley has content to spare.
Again, this is probably as much about me as it is the game. Medal of Honor: Frontline left a strong impression on me as a teenage because I was unhappy with my life at the time and I wanted to feel like a hero. But, joining the army would have been the wrong choice for me back then.
Stardew Valley is a great game. It’s addicting, it has personality and helps me wind down after the day. But it also taps into a part of me that isn’t satisfied, that isn’t excited to start a new day. It taps into the adult I’ve become and makes me wonder if I’ve taken the right roads.
In the game, I’m goal driven. I have long term and short term plans and I work towards them with determination. In the game, I’m people oriented. I work to find out the character’s likes and dislikes, befriend and romance and attend all the parties. In the game, I’m exhausted at night and jump out of bed in the morning.
In the game, I’m who I’d like to be in real life.
Did Eric Barone mean to make a Rorschach Test when he created this game alone? Did he mean for it to sell one million copies so that some people would rethink their life? I doubt it, but that’s what happened with me. I like my job and love my friends but where am I supposed to put down roots? Because no one is going to give me their old farm and save me from the mundane.
Maybe I can take the positive lessons from Stardew Valley and become more goal-oriented in life. Maybe I can take this discontentment and work for something that will bring me more peace. If I prefer the person I am in the game, maybe it’s time to be that person in the real world.