Stardew Valley & Slowing Down
A little over a year ago, I started playing a video game called Stardew Valley. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a super cute game in which you inherit a farm in a village called Pelican Town. After moving to the farm, you spend your days farming crops, tending to animals, fishing, foraging in the forest, crafting items, building friendships with the townsfolks, and exploring. There’s also mining and combat, but it’s largely avoidable if you’re going for more of an Animal Crossing vibe rather than a Minecraft vibe.
Anyways, Stardew Valley has a rather large fanbase, and with this comes a wide variety of ways that people play the game. There are some people that only care about crops, and won’t really bother doing things like exploring or fishing. Some people want a lot of combat, so they’ll traverse the mines in search of a fight, and not really care about making friends. Others try to complete things as quickly as possible, like leveling up, maxing out friendships, and basically climbing the ladder of success ASAP.
If you go on YouTube, you’re bound to see countless videos telling you “here’s why you shouldn’t waste your time planting cauliflower”, or “the BEST person to marry”, or “how to unlock this without having to do all this other stuff”. Basically, there’s a lot of videos telling you how to make the most money, as quickly as possible, and be the most efficient at everything.
But, is that really the point of the game?
The whole message of Stardew is laid out for you in the very beginning of the game by the grandpa that leaves you the farm: “There will come a day when you feel crushed by the burden of modern life, and your bright spirit will fade before a growing emptiness. When that happens, my dear, you will be ready for this gift.” The gift of course being the farm, which he tells you to go to and in doing so make real, human connections and reconnect with nature.
Now, don’t get me wrong, video games are meant to be enjoyed, so there’s no right or wrong way to play them as long as you’re having fun. But Stardew feels like the one game where we shouldn’t necessarily be grinding so hard to get everything done as quickly as possible, or short ourselves of some of the experiences just to make extra cash.
Stardew intentionally feels like it’s made to be played slowly, or played in a way that lets you enjoy the process of getting to the goal. There is joy in the simplicity that comes with watering your crops, not just joy in the selling of them. There is joy in the process of making friends, not just in receiving things from them once you reach a high enough level.
And yes, while you can do things like buy a machine that picks up all the eggs in the hen house for you, is there not a smidge of fun to be had going around and picking the eggs up yourself? Is gathering up the eggs a waste of our time in the game? In real life, even? Maybe. Maybe not.
When I originally started playing, I told myself that I didn’t want to use the wiki at all for help. I wanted to find out everything myself, and not ruin any of the “discovery” aspect of the game. But then I started gifting people things I found in the forest, like daffodils, and… they wouldn’t like it. And this genuinely made me sad. I found this daffodil, and it’s so pretty, and I could’ve sold it for 30 gold, but I saw you and wanted you to have it, and you don’t like it?? What’s wrong with it?
So, I started looking up what things people did and didn’t like on the wiki, so I didn’t have to feel such a sad sense of rejection, and also didn’t waste my items on people that didn’t like them. This was the start of my fall into the “looking everything up” mentality I was trying so hard to avoid.
Specifically because I wanted to romance a character named Sebastian, and I couldn’t figure out to get the cutscenes with him after leveling the hearts up. I had to look up how to trigger the cutscenes, even though they’re supposed to be something that you figure out on your own throughout playing the game.
If I had been patient, and not tried to be with him literally as soon as humanly possible, I probably would’ve figured it out eventually, but I didn’t want to wait potentially years to romance him. But isn’t that how romance is supposed to go? Aren’t you supposed to like them for a while, occasionally give a gift, and once in a while have a special moment (cutscene) with them, all leading up to actually dating/marrying? Instead here I was chasing him down all hours of the day, spamming giving gifts to him to get him to like me ASAP, and looking up how to have these nice moments with him.
Am I taking a game romance too seriously? Yeah, what else is new?
Anyways, the romance thing isn’t my point, my point is that I kept looking up everything in the game, and left none of the fun of exploring or discovery to myself. Nothing felt organic, I was just doing specific things I’d read online to do to get a certain result. Where’s the fun in that? The joy of actually playing the game?
So, I took a break from the game after I finished my first year (the years consist of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter). I just started a new save file a couple weeks ago, and I actually forget all the stuff I looked up before. I forget if Caroline likes amethyst, maybe I’ll try gifting it to her and see what happens? I forget if potatoes or cauliflower sell for more money, maybe I’ll plant both and figure it out myself? I forget if chickens are more profitable in the long run than cows, maybe I’ll just have both and give them all names and get five hearts with them anyways? And maybe I’ll enjoy the game even more this time around.
If you’re someone that enjoys playing Stardew in a way that gets you what you want as quickly as possible with as little time wasted as possible, that’s great, and I’m genuinely glad you enjoy the game. If you’re someone that only plants a handful of crops a season, has never been in the mines, and spends most of their day picking daffodils in the forest and giving them to people that don’t like them, that’s good too!
There really is no wrong way to play, and I’m tired of these videos and narratives that say I’m wasting my time or not making as much money as I could possibly be. I want to play how I want to play. And I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out just because I had the potential to make 50 gold instead of 30 gold, or because I married someone that has less benefits than someone else. I’ll figure it out, eventually. Maybe it’ll take a while. That’s okay.