"Stardew Valley" Is Self-Care
The idea of "self-care" has become a very interesting topic for the past few years. Whether it's taking a day off from work, getting a massage, meditating, or splurging on a fun purchase, it's all about your mental well-being. You only get one mind, and the banalities of everyday life can bog you down. For me, I like to play video games while I drink my tea with honey.
At first glance, Stardew Valley looks like a rudimentary, retro farming simulator and I was guilty of that assumption. It was on sale on the PlayStation store, and I'm always looking for games that I can play with my son or at least play with him in the room, so I thought... "why not?" This impulse purchase has given not only me but also my wife hundreds of hours of entertainment.
*Warning: Some Spoilers Below*
Also, instead of referring to the playable character as "the player character," I'll be using my farmer's name. He's an overall-wearing bearded fellow named Salty.
A Sense of Purpose
Stardew Valley begins in a way that I had never experienced in a video game. Salty was stuck in a dead-end job in a faceless company conglomerate. On his deathbed, Salty's grandfather had bequeathed his farm to him. After reading a heartfelt letter from Grandpa, Salty completely left his old life as a cubicle goblin and hopped on a bus to Pelican Town. He's greeted by some new neighbors and are given the task of cleaning up the farm and starting his new life as a farmer. I love my current job, and I use the term "cubicle goblin" from a place of endearment, but my previous job was both physically and emotionally exhausting. It was made very clear that we were replaceable and the morale of the workplace was low. So the idea that I could shake the dust off of that horrible place and start a new life on an idyllic farm sounds like heaven.
The farm, which you get to name, is a complete mess. There's rocks, branches, and weeds everywhere that junk up the farm and limit the amount of viable land space that can be used to grow crops. I had to clean up my new place. The mayor also suggested that Salty should meet his neighbors. Each NPC has a different personality, and the game gives you an opportunity to become friends with everyone. You can date, marry, and start a family with certain characters and neither gender or orientation play a factor. In the spring season, there's a dance, and I remember feeling so crushed that no one wanted to dance with my character. I was too busy doing farm work that I missed out on potential relationships.
Stardew Valley gives you responsibilities. If you don't water your crops, they will eventually die. If you forget to feed your chickens, they will stop laying eggs. If you neglect your spouse, they will leave you! Playing as Salty, I had the motivation to take care of my crops and make sure I kept in touch with friends.
The Community Center
North of the local store there is a large, dilapidated building. The mayor gives you the daunting task of fixing up this building. While it is an optional aspect of the game, each room that is repaired gives the player access to really awesome features.
Each room needs repair. The only way to fix them is by gathering select items, whether it's high-quality crops or items you get from killing monsters in the mines. Did I mention there's a mine full of monsters that you get to explore? Completing the "fall crops" category in the Center's pantry gives you a reward, but completing the entire pantry gives your farmer a greenhouse. All the benefits gained from the Center are well-worth the time I put into it.
It took me over 3 years in-game to complete the Community Center and when I did it was such a rush. It was like finishing a term paper and closing out all the tabs I had saved on my laptop. My wife was playing at the same time as me, and we had a little competition between us, so it was nice to be able to win that race.
How This Qualifies as Self-Care
After a season ends and you reap a great harvest, it feels good. Finding out which gifts work best with an NPC that you're trying to woo, it's like you've discovered something new about a new friend. Each floor of the local mine gives the player a rush. Taking advantage of every moment of the day and staying consistently productive is addictive.
Having responsibilities with no real-world consequences gave me the opportunity to take risks and explore what this game had to offer. My first year as a farmer was full of learning through trial and error. It took me at least 50 hours of gameplay to master the fishing mini-game!
I'm very aware of what I play when my son is around, and Stardew Valley is a very safe game for children. There's no realistic violence, profanity, or sexually explicit content that might affect your kids or your own personal scruples.
It's a wholesome experience, and I highly recommend this game to just about everyone I know that plays video games.
© 2019 Luke St Clair