My dog sniffs at it and then runs headlong into a fence.
February 15, 2017 1:26 AM   Subscribe

I like a lot of the people here, but the people I like most are those that have worked hard for things. Every one of them has a quiver of interesting stories that they fire with the straightness and sharpness of honesty, a straightness and sharpness that makes any writer jealous. Astonishing long read about Stardew Valley/Slough/love/life/money/despair by Paul Dean
posted by Sebmojo (23 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You might know Paul from ShutUpAndSitDown one of the very best of board game sites.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:46 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Public service announcement: you can get Stardew Valley bundled with a gazillion other excellent games in exchange for a $30+ donation to the ACLU, Doctors without Borders, and/or the International Rescue Committee as part of the Humble Freedom Bundle for the next few days.
posted by zachlipton at 2:49 AM on February 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

Oh also, Stardew Valley is currently available on the Humble Freedom Bundle which is an astonishingly good collection of games and all the proceeds go to the ACLU, the IRC, and MSF.
I spent about 40 minutes last night just putting activation codes into steam from it and am now waiting eagerly for my next hour of free time to give Stardew Valley a go.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:49 AM on February 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Perfect timing!

I picked up the game as part of the bundle and have spent the last while going around accidentally watering all of my neighbors, along with my cat, none of whom seem to mind one bit.
posted by zachlipton at 2:51 AM on February 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I bought Stardew Valley for my boyfriend last week (took me this long to save up for a Christmas present) and in the last six days we've put very nearly fifty hours into it. We are not normally this monomaniacal, don't normally game this much at all. But god damn if Stardew Valley isn't perfect.
posted by Dysk at 3:06 AM on February 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

This is a really lovely article.
I like the interweaving with real life Paul and Stardew Paul and on a few occasions, I'm half a paragraph in before I realise which one he's talking about.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:24 AM on February 15, 2017

we talk every evening of this sweet, blue bonnet spring. The seasons come, the flowers grow, and we build our farm as we build our lives.

"a song I wrote...All about the blue bonnets from my native state of Texas, and it's called Gulf Coast Highway."
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:10 AM on February 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a friend who's suggested more than a few times that I should buy a 3DS and get Animal Crossing to play on it, which is a bit rich for my current finances. When Stardew Valley came out and drew comparisons to that game, I wish-listed it on Steam and bought it during the Fall Sale a few months back.

It never quite grew to the level of an obsession as the best games do for me (Skyrim, 384 hours and counting, Terraria 600+) but it delivered solid fun for two weeks of evenings. It appeals to the part of me that has the Cabin Porn website (SFW despite the name) bookmarked as a way of taking a five minute break from my necessarily urban life. I know I'm not the only one who does that, and I'm probably not the only one who jokes that he'd move there in a heartbeat just as long as there was high-speed internet and a good grocery store just out of frame.

We've talked a lot about pernicious nostalgia for the 50s in the context of Trump's win in the US lately, but there seems to be a lot of just plain nostalgia going around too, of which Stardew Valley is a symptom. Blogs like Vault of the Atomic Space Age seem to me to have been growing in popularity lately. Or that may just be that I've reached the age where I'm getting nostalgic for my teen years in the 80s (which is ridiculous given that I hated the 80s) and selective bias has ensued. But it certainly feels like a longing for idealized, unrealistic simpler lives is a growth industry right now.
posted by Quindar Beep at 5:52 AM on February 15, 2017

It appeals to the part of me that has the Cabin Porn website (SFW despite the name) bookmarked as a way of taking a five minute break from my necessarily urban life. I know I'm not the only one who does that, and I'm probably not the only one who jokes that he'd move there in a heartbeat just as long as there was high-speed internet and a good grocery store just out of frame.

Ironically, what I liked about the essay is that he does the opposite of romantically nostalgia-fying the past. If the essay were about how his first shit job was hard but Stardew Valley was all "and then in a couple weeks I had made enough money to buy a tractor and that made the farm SO much easier!" or "my neighbor in Stardew Valley loaned me tools and I loaned them the tractor so there you go", that'd be different. But even in the fake world he acknowledges that farming is hard, that people get wrung out and fail, that sometimes the reasons people lose is simply because they weren't fortunate enough to have parents pay for their first apartment or something and so they are several steps behind the people even before the race starts.

The cabin porn/nostalgia/armchair homesteading kind of stuff doesn't always do a good job of acknowledging that. It isn't just the lack of high-speed internet that is keeping me from moving to a cabin (even though I may entertain the thought), it's the lack of any kind of money that would allow me to make any kind of down payment (unless anyone knows a way to make a downpayment on real estate for only about fifty bucks).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 AM on February 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

I played Stardew for a while, and really enjoyed it until I got the creeping feeling that the secret engine of the game is this gifting-people system, which is a resource/time intensive application of effort to give people what amounts to random shit and keeping a spreadsheet of what people do and don't like; I have enough spreadsheets in my life so I went back to FTL and Sunless Sea, which also have a certain amount of this-does-that material in it, but not, like, a multi-tabbed Excel document's worth.
posted by Shepherd at 8:27 AM on February 15, 2017

I really enjoyed this. My first character married Leah too, though I think Harvey and Maru were ultimately the spouses I found most interesting.
posted by carbide at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2017

I picked up Stardew Valley on the Steam sale because it gets recommended so much, but I just can't find the attraction. It seems like a nice looking facebook game. Seems way to grindy to me. Plus it pretty damn hard to drag me away from Banished.

Maybe I should give it another try.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:48 AM on February 15, 2017

We are not normally this monomaniacal, don't normally game this much at all.

When we first got the game, last Christmas or so, my wife and I essentially disappeared for three days. Meal time conversation consisted of who was the Best Spouse (Leah, obv) and the weird things that happen at night and the discovery of how awesome sushi is...

We aren't much for gaming either, most of the time, neither of us had ever played a harvest moon style game before. We went in cold and came up for air days later. Sdv deserves all the awards.
posted by bonehead at 10:10 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

EmpressCallipygos, the opening sequence of the game lampshades obtaining the property by having it be an inheritance from a grandparent, which pretty much lands it in daydream territory.

That grandparent comes back in spirit to judge you worthy (or not, though I've not ever failed badly enough for that), so it's fairly pro-olden days. Plus there's the whole JojaMart side possibility, which is strongly implied to be wrong for all that it's allowed.

The game is a little conflicted in its attitude to making the move from urban to rural, in the sense that a downside is visible, but it's pretty forgiving to one side of the argument and not so much to the other.
posted by Quindar Beep at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2017

(This information is time-limited, but at the time of this writing..) Stardew Valley appears to be one of the games included in the current HumbleBundle Freedom Bundle, which includes many other games as well.

Your purchase price of (at least) $30 can go to support the ACLU, Médecins Sans Frontières, or the International Rescue Committee -- at purchase time you decide how to apportion your donation.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:52 AM on February 15, 2017

I was going to post this in the PVL 45 thread that made me aware of the Humble Freedom Bundle but didn't want to add to the derail/server crushing length. But this seems like a good enough place so I'll do it here. I bought the Freedom Bundle but already have Steam keys for the below games from other Bundles and would love to pass my extras on to some game loving MeFites. Drop me a MeMail and I'll give you one key of your choice, first come first served. Give me your top three choices and I'll give you the top choice that's available out of those. If you happen to have any spare Steam keys collecting dust I would be happy to take one off your hands but it's not necessary.

Monster Loves You!
Super Meat Boy
Octodad: Dadliest Catch

To be on topic, I've been slightly intrigued by Stardew Valley since it came out and got all the hype. I'm not sure if I'm going to like it but I'll definitely fire it up and see. I'm more of an "action" and puzzle type gamer but it would be nice to have something that's a little more relaxing/doesn't involve shooting to mess around with in my spare time.
posted by friendlyjuan at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2017

SDV is one of the few games I've ever played that's directly, literally, relaxing. Not stressful in a fun way like a shooter or some variety of puzzlers. Almost the whole game is relaxing and de-stressing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:01 PM on February 15, 2017

I put the Eno misquote 'games are art like telephones are conversations' at the start of this thread, and it got deleted doubtless to avoid a derail - but I think it's a useful way of thinking about them in the context of this piece. We fashion art experiences using games as a medium.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:11 PM on February 15, 2017

so it's fairly pro-olden days

It is, kinda. But the first season / first year in the game is harsh for new players. The farm is overgrown and in a state of complete abandonment. You don't have enough energy to get a lot done each day. The small town is superficially friendly at first glance, but most of the people are very slow to accept the outsider, so there's a mix of distancing small talk and a harsh rudeness. Even if you make some headway in terms of friendships, you are nearly 100% guaranteed to be rejected by everyone (and quite bluntly too) at the Spring dance.

And then once you get to know them, the skeletons come out. SPOILERS, sorta: The kids who feel stifled by the limited horizons of a small town. The broken dreams. The young guy who was a big deal in high school and relives that glory every day as if its the only thing he'll ever accomplish. The alcoholic who lives in a trailer and punishes her daughter every day for simply existing. The children abandoned by parents who couldn't handle the responsibility and the parent who killed herself. The town's other drunk depressive who has no treatment options in-town, no support network beyond immediate family, and no economic opportunity beyond mopping the floors at Wal Mart. The town's homeless man has found his tent and possessions vandalized or destroyed enough times that he's fearful of you when you first meet. It's a town where the school and community center have closed, the only regular social opportunity is getting drunk at the pub, the young people mostly dream of escape, and in many respects their best days are well behind them.

That list can go on and on. There are well-adjusted people too. There are times where the townspeople are very generous to each other and to you. And there are plenty of times when you can make a big difference in people's lives. But that's one thing I love about the game. It's a nuanced take on small town life, including the warts and the dark side*. The game is ultimately optimistic. Things can and will get better for everyone. But I don't think it wallows in golden nostalgia too much. And some problems are never solved. You might help the returned soldier handle his PTSD better, but he still has the nightmares.

* - speaking of dark side, despite all the suffering shown of family abandonment, the game gives you the option to do the same to your own spouse and children. If you get tired of the toddler running around your house, visit the witch's hut and you can have your children turned into doves. Who will fly away and you'll never see them again. You can also divorce your spouse, and then have their memory erased so no one can recall what terrible things you must have done. You can also decide to support the big box store and put the local general store out of business. I think its terrible and wonderful the game lets you not only hear about the villains in various personal stories, but gives you the chance to also become the villain for a new round of small town gothic.
posted by honestcoyote at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Nice article. The weaving in of personal life with game was really well done. I loved SDV, and will likely replay it some day since the creator keeps adding new content to it.

One thing that comes up in the article is that the characters all have problems. A lot of those problems are solved by becoming romantically involved with you, but it's still interesting that the creator put a semi-realistic small town ennui into a game that's essentially escapist fantasy. One grip, which isn't even really that much of a gripe, is that the characters are fairly static outside of your romance with them. I kind of wish that you could see characters change even if they're not your lover. I think that's actually something that ConcernedApe has said he wants to implement later.

The framing of the game's opening has always struck me as really funny and ironic. You're shown miserable, hunched over a computer at your day job before you get your magical inheritance that allows you to move to the countryside... which is almost exactly the same posture that the player is taking in order to play. A game that's all about getting back to the restorative hard work of farming and fresh air is ironically super addicting, and ties you to a screen (which is what your avatar is trying to escape!).
posted by codacorolla at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

So... I didn't have any free time to play.
But who needs sleep. So, that's why I ended up going to bed at 4am.
Today I get to see if coffee can be effectively crafted into last minute deadline report writing!

The irony is that my little stardew chap would fall asleep at 2am. Whilst I remained hunched over my computer and dreaming of getting back to the restorative hard work of farming and fresh air long after that.

It's incredibly addictive, hitting all my buttons of what I want in a game.
Though I can see that there is a certain mindset needed. Like, you want to strive to improve your farm and level up and make advances, and yeah you could just plant, sell, plant sell. But then you'd miss the real game of ... experiencing... I guess? Does that make sense?
It's a game that mirrors life so, in much the same way as you can side with the evil corporation you can also min max your farm, profit and improvement above all else is possible, but you'd miss out the core of the experience.
Sorry that's rather inartfully put, but, I'd remind you that I was up till 4am playing Stardew Valley Like an idiot elegant elequonce is right out.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:23 AM on February 16, 2017

Meal time conversation consisted of who was the Best Spouse (Leah, obv)

WHAT?!? Emily ddoesn't get out of bed until about noon which clearly makes her proper spouse material in the way the others aren't.

(Really, I just wish I could romance Linus or Willy).
posted by Dysk at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

(On re read, that came off a little creepy in a totally unintentional way. I'm not a morning person, is what I'm driving at here, not anything else.)
posted by Dysk at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Tradition is based on religion; religion is based...   |   This guy watches Daesh videos so you don't have to... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments