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Steam was having a sale for the Lunar New Year. I had grown tired of my two very sophisticated games – Later Alligator and Baba Is You. So I was up for trying something new. Or, I guess, trying something almost exactly four years old but on sale for $9.99. Stardew Valley, here I come!
As you can tell from my vast Steam library listed above, I’m not the most serious gamer. I’ve played my fair share of Borderlands couch co-op, and I’m an expert at Two Dots on my phone, but that’s about it. I didn’t know much about Stardew Valley going in. It’s cute. It has farms. And everyone seems to love it.
I certainly didn’t realize the premise of Stardew Valley is that you’re a corporate drone in a cube, desperate for a way out. The way out is offered by your grandfather, who bequeaths you his run-down farm. Oh, I feel this, I thought, with writing deadlines looming. Best ten bucks I’ve ever spent.
The first thing I did was text Carly, my gaming friend and Stardew Valley veteran, to tell her I downloaded the game. Her response? “I am literally so happy for you I don’t know what to say!!!” It might seem hyperbolic, but Stardew Valley players are sincere in their praise.
Farming is where it’s at
I created my character, then set her to work hoeing some dirt, planting some seeds, and petting my dog, Risley, who begs much less than my real dog. At first I had issues with the land clearing objectives, but everything grows back. You can chop down a bunch of trees without concern for soil erosion, or the effect of removing shade from around the ponds.
Still, it’s possible to go overboard. As a matter of fact, if you cut down too much grass, you might have to buy some at Pierre’s store and plant it so your chickens have something to eat. It would grow back, sure. But perhaps not quickly enough.
Clearing land and planting seeds might sound boring, but Stardew Valley soon had its hooks in me. Soon, I was sending texts like “Bout to get me a COOP [three chicken emojis]” and “Just planted summer crops, bitches!”
After a week of playing, and four seasons in the game, my character had a coop with four chickens and a barn with three cows. I could smelt ore into bars and pickle vegetables, and she was quite the forager. She had a tidy plot of seasonal fruits and vegetables that were watered with sprinklers.
The more I played, the more I realized my character’s habits aren’t so different from my own. She spends a good part of her morning feeding, watering, and petting all her animals. I can relate. She’s even had a few too many pub once…which is, let’s say, less than the number of times I’ve done the same. But who’s keeping count?
The good life isn’t always perfect
But not everything is great out on the range. My Stardew Valley character, like me, isn’t great at making friends, and she’s terrible at giving gifts.
She once accidentally gave Robin a piece of soggy newspaper she happened to have in her hands. She didn’t win the egg hunt. She didn’t get anyone to dance with her. When she contributed to the community soup, a visiting governor judged it to be fine, but not great.
It’s not all bad news on the social front, though. Things got a little racy when she had to return the mayor’s lucky shorts to him. She remembered to give Demetrius flowers on his birthday. And Elliott has become her best friend.
Stardew Valley doesn’t demand perfection
After four seasons, with cows, chickens, and at least one friend under my belt, I started to feel comfortable in Stardew Valley. Yet there is one skill that eludes me. Fishing.
“Fishing is so important!” proclaims every Stardew Valley website and wiki. “I love fishing in Stardew Valley!” says every fan and critic.
Skip the “should.” Just attend to what you enjoy.
I hate it. I just can’t figure out how to keep a fish on the line. Even when my character does catch something, it’s garbage. Literal garbage! A broken CD. Wet newspaper (the very same my character gifted to Robin). A stick.
Still, my character is doing fine. There are enough ways to make a living in the Valley that if you suck at one, you’re not doomed to living in a tent with the wild-haired guy behind Robin’s shop. This is a game about fleeing the stress of office life, with its kanban boards and “shoulds.” I should reach inbox zero. I should go to the gym on my lunch hour. I should have a more efficient workflow.
Skip the “should.” Just attend to what you enjoy. Pet the chickens, milk the cows, water the seedlings. As for the fish? I’ll be leaving them in the lake.
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