Es­cap­ing real-life woes and tak­ing refuge in the whim­si­cal but still weirdly woe­ful Stardew Val­ley

XBox: The Official Magazine - - EXTRA - Kim­ber­ley Bal­lard

Pub­lisher Chuck­le­fish games / De­vel­oper Eric Barone / for­mat Xbox one / re­lease date De­cem­ber 2016

Liv­ing on a farm sounds nicer than it prob­a­bly re­ally is. There are so many things that could go wrong – you get up in the morn­ing ready for a day of fresh air, daisies and baby an­i­mals, and find your­self slip­ping in cow poo be­fore it’s even nine a.m and break­ing your back try­ing to lift hay bales in the barn. I’ve seen farms on TV and I’m pretty sure that kind of thing hap­pens.

Let’s cut to the chase: I’m a ca­reer girl who works in an of­fice nine to five, has a mild (read: se­vere) so­cial me­dia ad­dic­tion and suf­fers from a slight case of chronic malaise. Ev­ery day is a cy­cle of Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions, new Tum­blr fol­low­ers and ag­o­nis­ing over which In­sta­gram fil­ter com­ple­ments the olive un­der­tones in my skin. Videogames are just as mad­den­ing: full of guns, guilt and self-loathing.

This is why I was so at­tracted to Stardew Val­ley. De­spite my knack for doom and de­spair, whimsy tick­les me, and the game looks like a re­prieve from ev­ery­day wor­ries. Just look­ing at its pixel art and lis­ten­ing to the sweet mu­sic makes me feel breezy. And putting aside my doubts over its ide­alised slice of ru­ral liv­ing, I’m con­fi­dent that grow­ing parsnips will be a piece of risotto com­pared to mag dead­lines.

Things don’t start well. When cre­at­ing my char­ac­ter, I spend at least 45 min­utes won­der­ing which jumper best rep­re­sents me as an in­di­vid­ual and go­ing back and forth be­tween two shades of dark brown hair. When that’s done, I de­cide to call my farm ‘Cherry Blos­som Farm’ ex­cept I miss out the M and ac­ci­den­tally call it Cherry Blosso Farm. I don’t know how to change it and now ev­ery­one who meets me is go­ing to think I’m a mo­ron. Frus­tra­tion sets in.

I also feel a lit­tle bad tak­ing all of this land from my grand­fa­ther at the be­gin­ning of the game. Like, did we have any kind of re­la­tion­ship? Did I sit on his knee as a child and ask him to tell me sto­ries from wartime or what­ever? I feel like my youth­ful en­ti­tle­ment and mil­len­nial greed are what re­ally killed him. I glance at a book my mum got me for Christ­mas, Women Who Think Too Much, and sigh. I quickly fall in love with the game. My farm is cute de­spite the ram­pant de­struc­tion, and I like my lit­tle wooden house and its se­lec­tion of soft fur­nish­ings. I mean, there is that weird mayor who leaves mes­sages out­side my house late at night, but ev­ery town has its res­i­dent creeper I sup­pose. The farm it­self is a mess, but that’s okay. I find that crack­ing rocks and cut­ting down an­noy­ing fo­liage is oddly sat­is­fy­ing, es­pe­cially with the lit­tle swishy sound ef­fects that ac­com­pany each ac­tion. That night, how­ever, I wake up with a ham­mer­ing pulse. I re­alise that this farm is an over­grown par­adise and I’m bend­ing it to my own whims! It’s so typ­i­cal of hu­mans to cor­rupt the nat­u­ral land­scape. I con­fess my wor­ries to a friend the next day. “You’re over­think­ing this,” she says. “Shut up,” I re­ply, book­mark­ing my place in Women Who Think Too Much.

Once my anx­i­ety set­tles down, a lovely sort of rep­e­ti­tion be­gins to kick in. I dili­gently re­mem­ber to wa­ter my plants ev­ery day, toil the earth in neat lit­tle patches and even be­gin sav­ing up for some cows. Un­for­tu­nately I start hav­ing fever dreams where gi­ant Venus fly­traps sprout up and de­vour me, but that’s typ­i­cal of me I think.

For­tune’s favour

There are so many things about Stardew Val­ley that I wish could ap­ply to real life. Like that lady on the TV who tells you your for­tune ev­ery morn­ing. I can just imag­ine her say­ing, “Hey, stay away from the guy in the blue jumper who lis­tens to Depeche Mode even though it’s not the ‘80s any­more. He’s cute but dumb.”

Grow­ing veg­eta­bles and for­ag­ing out in the for­est is also the per­fect pas­time for a foodie like me. If only there were a cross­over be­tween Stardew Val­ley and Over­cooked where I could make an ar­ray of meals with all my veg. I spend so much time fan­ta­sis­ing about this that 12 game hours pass and I re­alise that I’m stand­ing in some­one’s gar­den in mid­dle of the night like a freak.

I love my farm so much I end up spend­ing all my time there. I know we’re sup­posed to visit the lo­cals but ev­ery­one skeeves me out a bit. I keep ex­pect­ing a twist where it turns out ev­ery­one’s in a Wicker Man- es­que cult and I’ll be burnt dur­ing a May Day fes­ti­val – I mean, have you no­ticed ev­ery­one is a su­per babe in this game? Maybe they’ve dis­cov­ered the gift of eter­nal youth and beauty?

I miss all of their birthdays and am quite sure ev­ery­one hates me. What­evs. I’m that cute but weird recluse, just like in real life. Wait, wasn’t this game sup­posed to be about es­capism? I blink at the screen solemnly and de­cide to plant some more straw­berry seeds be­fore dark.

“I have dreams where gi­gan­tic Venus fly­traps sprout up and de­vour me”

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