Since we’re all trying to find ways to keep ourselves engaged and connected while staying at home, video game sales have surged. A report, released by Verizon in March, claims video game use has increased by 75 percent since social distancing guidelines were put into effect. During quarantine, I decided to begin playing through many of the games I had been recommended in the past but neglected to play. The first on my list was Stardew Valley, an indie game developed by Eric “Concerned Ape” Barone in 2016.
You begin your journey receiving a letter from your now-deceased grandfather, who has given you the rights to his farm should you ever decide to leave the corporate world. This is without a doubt inspired by the Harvest Moon franchise. You leave your life at Joja, a fictional mega mart akin to the real-life Wal-Mart, and discover the town of Stardew Valley is on the brink of being taken over by Joja. It is now not only your journey to restore your family farm, but also to decide whether to hand the town to the corporations or help the residents’ stores survive in the harrowing cycling of late-term capitalism.
The valley holds the potential for you and your dreams of gold. Strawberry fields as far as the eye can see, or perhaps a basement full of wine kegs and aged ancient fruit wine. The fields require precise planning as you plot down barns, fish ponds, mills and plowed areas all in the favor of maximizing your farm’s profit. Harvestables are labeled by quality from basic to iridium quality, all impacting the profit made off of the product. To plan your farm you must also partake in the other areas of expertise in the valley: combat, fishing, foraging and mining. As you scale these areas up, your pockets and explorable area will expand.
The goal of the game is productivity. Nothing should be done without an end goal or a purpose, including mingling with the villagers who all carry their own stories, exclusive recipes, and cutscenes to invest you within the storyline of the small town. With nine eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, along with the twenty-something other citizens, there is always a new story to discover or a new friend to make. The most impressive part of the citizens by far is their relatability to real-world problems and situations. Storylines for the characters vary in depth from secret relationships to PTSD brought on by the far off war, which in turn, not only allows for the player to garner sympathy for the 16-bit people, but it also allows for the player to experience situations they otherwise would not.
Stardew Valley is a gaming experience unlike any other. It allows the player to escape into the world of farming and crafting, while indulging in the rich story surrounding the town. Days run long enough to complete tasks against the clock and short enough to retain engagement with players, ensuring they don’t become bored of waiting for their turnips to grow. The most important aspect? The characters and their struggles confront harsh topics without making it the centerfold of the game. If you’re in the market for a new game, Stardew Valley might just be up your alley.