[Note: this piece was originally written for Co-Opinionated. Bringing it over here since this site exists as an archive of my work. But you should still read the other articles they have!]
Let me begin this with a Fake Gamer Girl confession: I’ve never actually played a Harvest Moon game for more than ten minutes. It’s not because I think that they’re bad or anything, but rather, due to the privilege of modern emulation, I can try out the games for a few minutes, then make a mental note to go back to them after I finish playing something else. Of course, I never do.
So when I heard that a game heavily inspired by the series was coming out on Steam, I didn’t give it much thought. “Oh, neat” was what I probably said. “When is Grandia II going on sale?” was probably my next thought. It seemed interesting enough, but probably not something I’d be into.
And then someone had to go and tell me that you could be gay in it. And unlike other games, this wasn’t one or two gay relationships you could pursue; you could get with anybody who was neither married or a child. Suddenly, my interest is piqued. Dammit, I’m shallow enough that I’ll reconsider wanting a game if it lets me get into same-sex relationships and isn’t totally weird about it.
Long story short, I own the game. I am thoroughly and completely addicted to Stardew Valley. I cannot get enough of this game. I’m tending to and constantly restructuring my crops. I go out into town and listen to everyone’s problems, and give them a jar of homemade mayonnaise (not nearly as lewd as it sounds) as a token gesture. I go into some mines and kill the monsters that live there, and thankfully haven’t found a way to the surface. I’m fishing. I’m decorating my home. I pet my dog. I’m just chilling out, having a good time.
There exists an unnamed genre of games dedicated to taking your time and relaxing as you reach a goal. Titles like Noby Noby Boy, Afrika, or Animal Crossing fit this description. And so too does Stardew Valley. It has a few caveats; each day goes by much quicker than its inspiration in Harvest Moon, and certain crops can only be grown during specific seasons, and any growing crops left after a season change will immediately die. But by and large, Stardew Valley is a game about chilling out, and moving at your own pace. Maybe you don’t want to go into the dungeon today. Maybe you’d rather hang out at the bar, having a chat with people over a glass of beer, and play the twin-stick shooter in the lounge area. That’s cool. The game will never give you grief for not constantly being a busy-body.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many games like this out there. Challenge is good. Competitive and co-operative action is great. But sometimes, I just need to settle down from the day. I need characters being cute and saying things that are utterly earnest, yet completely hilarious. I need ambient nature sounds in my headphones while I fish under the moon on a cool Summer night. I want to sit back and close my eyes for a couple seconds while my avatar sits in the middle of a field by a campfire we built. I’m glad Stardew Valley does this. Just me, my blue-skinned avatar, the purple-haired goth chick I’m trying to get with, and Mother Nature (in digital form).
I’d like to eventually rectify for Fake Gamer Girl reputation and actually play a Harvest Moon at some point. But considering how strong of a hold Stardew Valley maintains on me, that probably won’t be for some time. And ironically enough, I still have yet to actually enter any kind of in-game relationship.