I am a sucker for a deal. One of the “deal” sites that I like to follow is the Humble Bundle – a website that started out selling video games at a price determined by the purchaser. A portion of the money goes to charity, with the rest split between the game developers whose products were sold. It has expanded to include audio books, ebooks, and anything more that can be delivered digitally. The bundles tend to be tiered – if you pay anything, you’ll get X games. If you pay above the average contribution, you get X+Y. If you contributed above a certain minimum, you get, X, Y, and Z. It usually ends up working pretty well. I don’t always use all the the things that I purchased, but if there are enough in a certain price point to justify the cost, I’m usually on board.
Back in February the “Humble Freedom Bundle” was announced. And it was glorious. 30+ games, along with some audiobooks and ebooks and other stuff. All the proceeds would support Doctors Without Borders, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the International Rescue Committee (all charities I’ve supported in the past), and Humble Bundle itself would match up to $300K. Wow. And when I looked at the game list and spotted one I’d been told/warned about – Stardew Valley – I jumped. There were a couple others that intrigued me, but this was the big one.
“What the heck is Stardew Valley,” you ask, “and why is it worth spending my money on? Also – warned? Explain that.” Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life RPG. According to the website,
You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home? It won’t be easy. Ever since Joja Corporation came to town, the old ways of life have all but disappeared. The community center, once the town’s most vibrant hub of activity, now lies in shambles. But the valley seems full of opportunity. With a little dedication, you might just be the one to restore Stardew Valley to greatness!
Maybe I’m not selling this correctly. You get to create a highly customizable character. There’s farming, fishing, crafting, exploring, mining, adventuring. Cooking too. Basically, you do chores and have a social life for 18 hours a day. It’s…fun? Really fun? I’m not saying this right – but it’s sort of the ideal balance of getting to organize plots of land and planted crops, and choosing what you grow. You build your skill levels – you get better at fishing, at fighting the monsters in the mines, at harvesting crops. You can raise animals and create artisanal products based on your crops and animal products. You build relationships in the community – including the opportunity to “fall in love” and marry one of the single members of town (male or female – apparently everyone in this town is bi). There are seasonal community-wide celebrations – things like the flower dance, the luau, the “Not-Halloween” party, the solstice celebration.
If it doesn’t sound fun yet, I’m not explaining it right. But it’s sort of blown up in the year since it was released. People are obsessed with Stardew Valley. It has made a ridiculous amount of money for its developer (who it turns out is ONE GUY), and was one of the most downloaded games on Steam last year. It posted bigger sales numbers than some of the more sophisticated and stereotypical “gamer” games – and it’s this ridiculously cute 16-bit little farming simulator. You can find so many people streaming their games on Twitch, or just videos of and about the game on YouTube.
So the bit about being warned: Ben was the one who warned me a while back. He said I would like it. That I should get it. And obviously I did. So when I started playing, I told him, and his first (and only) piece of advice was this: “Don’t get into the one more day mentality”. Which is to say – the game is played in days. You do your chores, you do the “fun things”, you socialize. It’s like real life, but better because it’s a much great speed, and with immediate and visible results to any improvements you make. If you become better friends with someone (something you can track with “hearts”), your conversations change, and you can enter their home without asking (because that’s a real thing???), and they send you the occasional gift. When you become a more proficient farmer, you learn to craft things like scarecrows to keep away birds who will eat your crops, sprinklers so you don’t have to spend all your time watering. When you become a better miner, you collect better types of stones and ore which allow you to upgrade your tools (to a copper or steel tool instead of a basic one), and you become more proficient at fighting the monsters that live under the town.
I promise it’s awesome. It’s so awesome that on at least two occasions I have sat down to play in the afternoon when I get off work when the sun is still out and bright, and find myself in a dark room later in the evening. Thank goodness it’s partly because of the time change, and the sun has set a little earlier recently, but it’s still a testament to the obsessive nature of this game. On the occasions that I’m playing, I have to remind myself to stop – I have to make an active choice that “this will be my last day”. The Boy laughs at me because he feels like I’m displaying some “hardcore gamer” traits, which he thinks are adorable in a more casual gamer like me. He laughs when I stay up past my bedtime, because it’s something he does too. But I think he also laughs because he recognizes that this is a fun game, and it’s nice to be invested is something where the world is so big.
Ok – who’s curious? Or who out there has played Stardew Valley too?