Stardew Valley

I borrowed a Nintendo Switch recently to see if I liked them enough to want to buy one. There are enough games out for it now that I think I’d really enjoy playing, so it has the critical mass of title availability that any console needs for me to consider getting one. I don’t really like it as a handheld, but it might do well in fixed mode connected to my TV. Anyway, that’s all besides the point of this post.

What I really want to talk about is Stardew Valley (official website). It’s been out for almost 3 years now, starting on Windows PC and slowly gaining ports to basically everything else that can run it ever since. The PlayStation Vita even got a port earlier this year, and honestly it might actually be the best platform to play the game on.

The concept of the game is simple: you quit your shitty job and go run a dilapidated old farm you inherit from your grandfather. That’s it. You just run the farm.

You just run the farm.

I mean, you can do other stuff, such as sell what the farm makes, meet people, trade, make stuff, keep pets, fall in love, but basically you just run the farm. You could do nothing but that. The game doesn’t have a middle or an end. You just run the farm for as long as you want to keep playing the game, and I have a really hard time putting it down now that I’ve started.

The first few in-game days are spent figuring out some basics. Using your tools to work the land outside your shitty farm, which you get to name. Someone comes to see you to explain what to do with anything you can grow on the farm that you don’t want — you put it in a box near the farmhouse and at the start of the next day you get money for it, if what you put in is worth anything. You don’t have to do that though. You could just pile it all up on the floor somewhere.

Someone comes to see you to tell you there’s a whole village that your farm is in, in Stardew Valley, and encourages you to explore and meet the other people. But you don’t have to. If you do, someone eventually shows you a weird building you get encouraged to renovate, alongside your farm. Something weird is in there. But you don’t have to ever care.

You’ll probably explore and find the shop that sells seeds for you to grow other stuff. But you don’t have to.

You just run the farm.

The aesthetic is just basic pixel art. The control system is simple. The music is twee and soothing. There’s no violence. You don’t shoot or kill. You just tend to your land as you want to. You’re encouraged to keep a pet (in fact you just get given one and there’s no way that I can see to get rid of it, but why would you want to, it’s a dog and dogs are awesome).

You’re encouraged to love eventually, I think (at least the list of NPCs in-game tells you who is currently single). But really you just, well, you guessed it:

You just run the farm.

As far as I can tell that makes it the most perfect game ever invented. You can get as deep into it as you want to, or not, just by running the farm as simply or as complex as you see fit. At least for me, there’s something deeply soothing about that, because it means the game maps perfectly to changes in you the human being playing it.

Say you build the farm up to be huge and it’s churning out heaps of produce at a real clip. You’re probably very into making sure that everything is as efficient as possible and you’re getting produce out to market and making as much money as the farm can sustain.

But what if one day you decide to just weed around the edges and walk around in town and do absolutely nothing on the farm? Nothing bad will happen. Nobody will die. You’ll learn some lessons about spoiled crops and maybe your farm animals might go hungry. But that’s OK, you can come back to it when you the human, not your in-game avatar, are ready.

Your avatar has her or his own feelings and health and whatnot, but it’s mostly incidental because you don’t ever have to eat or anything like that, it’s just implied that it happens. Don’t replenish energy by eating in the game? You just get tired and have to sleep and a day rolls over. Sometimes you get charged money for that, to encourage you not to and look after yourself, but that’s about it.

You just run the farm.

It’s just a perfect little game you play however you’re able, want to, and care to. It moulds itself to you, and it’s such delicious escapism. It looks like it first came out in 1988 on the Amiga, the complete antithesis of the popular hyperviolent games today like DOOM Eternal, and it’s easily the best game I’ve played in years.