By Tanner Kinney
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
Stardew Valley is a game that I’ve been sitting on for a while now. I always thought it looked fun, but I also was one of the few people who never got absorbed into a game of its type before. I never ended up buying it, holding out for the multiplayer update. After all, games are more fun with friends and/or family, right? Which is why when the multiplayer beta for Stardew Valley dropped, I instantly purchased the game and jumped right into it. And, within the past two weeks I’ve spent 50 hours on the game.
This game is, no joke, an addiction. A good kind of addiction, not the crippling kind like an addiction to Diet Coke or League of Legends. One day I booted up the game, played it for a few hours solo, then played a multiplayer server for a couple of hours, then went back to my solo farm after we were done with multiplayer. It’s got such an addicting gameplay loop that pulls you into another in-game day by design, making it incredibly hard to quit. I’ve just reached Year Two on my solo farm, and I’m still excited to go out every day to pet the ducks, milk the cows, fish excessively and give a worrying number of diamonds and melons to my waifu Penny.
Image from CommonSenseGamer
Yet, while I was playing the game, I was asked by a few of my friends, “What makes Stardew Valley so much fun?” I couldn’t give them an answer when they asked me, because really, I have no idea. It’s just… so much fun to play. I can’t stop playing. But there has to be a reason why, right? So I dug deep, went up to the highest mountain with my fishing rod, and meditated on the question. What makes Stardew Valley so much fun? After some time, and catching at least 3000g’s worth of fish, I arrived at my answer.
Stardew Valley is life, but without all the bad parts.
My avatar, Fraudette, wakes up every morning refreshed, excited to take on a new day. She leaves her house to take care of the daily farm business with gusto, petting all the farm animals and collecting their animal products, watering the crops that aren’t near sprinklers, and after that, the day is hers. She could run around the forest, collecting random leeks and wild onions. She could go into town and wait outside Penny’s trailer in a definitely non-creepy way to give her more melons. She could even spend the whole day fishing in the mountains. As in, 9 am to 9 pm, only fishing. It’s not a problem; it’s a profitable business venture. Then after all of that, Fraudette returns home to sleep, then wake up and do the same thing all over again.
Other than finances, Fraudette doesn’t have to worry about anything other than the farm animals and the energy meter. The goals that she sets are her own, with nothing directing her. Sometimes, she’ll completely forget what she was planning on doing and just runs into the mines to try to get an amethyst to feed Abigail (who is a close second to Penny). When I think about it, that’s life. As a semi-independent and mostly functioning adult, I have the choice to do anything I want when I wake up in the morning, or at least once I’m done with work. Yet, I realistically don’t have that choice. In Stardew Valley, I have that choice.
Alright, now that I sound like a mental patient, let me try and explain myself. Nothing about Stardew Valley is inherently fun. Farming isn’t really fun, mining isn’t really that exciting, and fishing is definitely not as thrilling as I think it is. Boiled down to its essence, Stardew Valley is really just a game about making a number go up so you can make the number go down, which will make it go up more the next time. There’s also the community center, but once that’s been filled out, what’s next? Not much beyond just the same daily routine, just like life.
Image from Reddit
The fun in the game comes from player choice. The player creates their own fun. My fun comes from doing light role-playing with my solo-farm avatar Fraudette, and more hardcore role-playing on the multiplayer farm I have with my brothers. Another person might find fun in delving into the mines, optimizing their character to find profits through that instead of fishing or foraging or cooking. It’s all about player choice.
Let’s loop back to the comparison to real life. In my life, I don’t do much, yet I have plenty of things I could do. I could go get that internship for the local newspaper, or I could go get a job at the local Wendy’s. I could also spend my day just writing about dumb things like League of Legends or, well, Stardew Valley. I could watch house hunting shows on TV with my Mom, complaining about all the idiots and gushing over kitchen designs only I could love. I could go out and just drive around the area, seeing sights I haven’t seen in a long while. I could even go to the gym, but we all know that isn’t going to happen. Just like Fraudette, I could do so many things.
Image from Mashable
In life though, people are limited by so many factors. I’m limited by my disgusting human emotions and lack of money (broke college student). There are so many blockades for me to overcome in real life to truly have the world be my oyster. And maybe I’m just making excuses, but I’m sure most people would agree that there’s a difference between what we want to do, what we could do, and what we can do. When I play Stardew Valley, those blockades don’t exist, or when they do exist, there’s a concrete way to overcome it. There’s no real risk to wasting the day away fishing, or even just chatting with the townspeople. Stardew Valley creates opportunity and tangible goals that sometimes just aren’t there in real life. Stardew Valley is an outlet to live life freely, and it’s pure and simple. And that is what I think makes Stardew Valley so much fun.
Seriously though, Stardew Valley was just designed really well to be an addictive game. The reason I’ve played it so much is that the game saves at the end of each day, so if I just want to check on my crops and animals, I have to go through the whole day along with it. And then I’ll want to do that again and again, until four hours have passed, and I haven’t eaten dinner despite it being 11 p.m. I would call it insidious if it wasn’t so gosh darn cute with so many cute townspeople. Except Harvey, he makes me uncomfortable—legitimately the worst option to date. I’d rather date Clint the blacksmith than him, and Clint’s an actual creep. Sorry Harvey fans, it’s the truth.
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.