Why I love Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley (Steam) was a game for which I knew I would have to wait until I was in the right mood before I could play it. Recently, I had terrible toothache and a huge abscess. I was taking co-codamol for the pain and not really firing on all cylinders, so I thought I’d play something simple. Stardew Valley is about growing plants and maintaining a farm, so it seemed like a good choice. I arrived at my grandfather’s old farm on the first day of spring and couldn’t tell a radish from a cucumber.
“Pfft, farming. How complicated can it be?”
I got to work planting crops. It was indeed simple enough to begin with, but as I went on I found myself trying to do more and more things during days which were not getting any longer. An old man showed me the rickety old community centre which I promptly forgot about and would later find out is very important. Someone told me that I should build a coop and add a kitchen to my house. It took me forever to get that kitchen. It was all I wanted, but any time I had the money and the materials, there was always something more important to spend the money on. There were never enough hours in the day. There was always more work to be done and never enough money. People asked favours of me, usually asking for things I’d never heard of. Definitely not things I had time for. Everything took so much energy and time, but I compounded the issue by doing everything wrong.
I had an awful start, to say the least. This is not most people’s experience of Stardew Valley, I was just rather out of it and clueless. It’s not that the game isn’t good at explaining itself, I just understood it very poorly. Locals gave me tips and there was useful info on the telly, but I struggled to remember much of it. My life in Stardew Valley was chaotic and disorganised, with so many little projects going on at once, so many things to tend to and no hope of remembering very many of them. There was plenty to do, so I did my best. It took me until spring of the second year before I felt I was doing much more than scraping by and could finally afford a barn as well as a coop, but I got there. By autumn of the second year, I’d really gotten into the swing of things and had my farm running smoothly.
Stardew Valley was exactly the game I thought it would be, but also much more. I was wrong to think I would find it easy and I was especially wrong when I thought this game was simple. It is, on the surface, and that’s part of the beauty of it. There is just so much to do, which is great, but there’s so little time.
Time is very precious in Stardew Valley. Time is short in many games, but in this one, it’s slow and feels very inevitable. I’m sure it’s possible to play it perfectly with enough research and a spreadsheet, but for me that would take the fun out of it. Maybe it was just the painkillers, but after experiencing how little time there is to do everything I want to do in Stardew Valley, it’s made me reflect on how precious time is in real life, too. This did not make me regret having spent several full days playing Stardew Valley at all. If anything, I want to start over and build a far more sensible and efficient farm, now that I know what I’m doing.
Stardew Valley is soothing, charming and clever. It’s very good. The premise is simple, but the limited time and huge number of tasks makes every moment feel precious and every decision more important. There is pressure, but it’s not hugely stressful. Stardew Valley is hard, but it’s very forgiving. I was awful at it, but I got there eventually and had great fun doing so.