Growing up I played a game for the Playstation called Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. If you did too, perhaps you share my feelings: No matter how many times I started a new farm, it just failed to grab my attention. Fast forward 15 years to Stardew Valley and that feeling has vanished completely, replaced by a borderline addiction to my tiny, bearded sprite, and the successes of his imaginary wife and farm.
Stardew is a very close copy of Harvest Moon, in both mechanics and progression. You build relationships with the people in town, you have an eccentric mayor (who, in Stardew Valley, sits on the fence between eccentric old man and dangerous pervert), and you spend three years trying to build a farm up from a mess of rocks and logs, to a thriving and beautiful producer of goods and produce. Unlike Harvest Moon, however, I am enthralled by Stardew, but with no real reason as to why. Perhaps it’s the charming pixilated, retro-feel, or perhaps it’s the genuine feeling of fun and surprise that occurs when you discover one of the valley’s many secrets and hidden puzzle pieces. Or maybe it strikes a chord with the part of me that wants to abandon everything and start a farm—true wish fulfillment in the form of a deceptively simple farming simulator.
Whatever the reason, I just can’t seem to get enough of Stardew. I’ve amassed more than 60-hour playtime in a relatively short time, and I’ve successfully hooked my partner on it as well. It’s become a fun part of the day, discussing our various adventures and conquests in the valley. Something about it draws us in, and gives us both a similar itch to get back to the farm—a challenge as we share one computer between the two of us. There’s even some enjoyment in seeing the different ways we play the game, and the different results we get. Our relationships with the residents are different, and even the personality in our respective spouses adds a depth that you wouldn’t find in similar games.
Despite its simplistic appearance, Stardew Valley is a deep and complex game. This becomes more obvious the more time I spend in its world. While the core of Stardew is to create and maintain your farm, there is always more to do, and always in unexpected ways. I did not expect in a million years that a farming simulator would have a battle mechanic, or that meteors would crash into my field, or that a witch would fly over during the night and leave a black egg in my coop. And yet once or twice, every day, something manages to surprise me. There is so much to explore, and you really only hit a peak in what Stardew offers once you’ve maxed out all your stats and relationships.
Stardew’s shortcoming for me, however, was the fishing—I simply could not get a knack for the infuriating mini game. This frustration lead me to a dark and sinister part of the internet: the modding community. Apparently someone (who shared my fury in being unable to catch a fucking anchovy) developed a mod for easy fishing, and I am (not really) ashamed to admit that I used it. I’ve never been someone who relishes in being defeated by a game, but someone who would rather be able to enjoy all the offerings and have a well rounded experience.
There’s something genuinely fun about Stardew Valley, some kind of ineffable quality that keeps me coming back, and keeps me feeling a sense of connection to my farm, the animals that live on it, and the tiny, pixelated woman who became my in-game wife. My partner and I both, serendipitously, ended up with the closest representations of each other as our in-game companionship; there’s much to love and discover in the valley, and it’s likely that Stardew will continue to draw me back in for a long time to come.