In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today Phil shuns the world in Stardew Valley.
I came to Stardew Valley as a cynic. I’d seen screenshots, I’d seen praise, I’d seen it topping the Steam chart. It’s a sickeningly cheerful RPG about farming, I thought. Can it really be that good?
Yes, it really can. I’ve now played for over 25 hours, and I’m creeping towards the end of my first year in Pelican Town. After the initially overwhelming introduction to Stardew Valley’s many activities, I gained an economic foothold via the fishing minigame. It’s a pleasant time waster, and easy enough that I could haul in a decent catch in a day.
That’s when the numbers started growing, and everything became compulsive. Fishing gave me money that I invested in seeds. Weeks later, the seeds became vegetables, and money started to pour in at a steadier rate. By summer, I’d made enough to buy chickens. By autumn, cows.
At this point I was a full-time farmer, hand-watering rows of crops, brewing pale ales, and creating artisanal cheese and mayonnaise. I became the hipster’s hipster, supplying the town with all the raw materials of gentrification without any of the downsides. Even homeless hermit Linus has his tent.
It’s winter now, and I’m tidying up the wilder edges of my farmland. I’m investing in upgrades, new buildings, and finding more valuable resources in the mines. It’s all with a goal of increasing production in year two. Come spring, it all begins again—this time, with the benefit of tens of hours of experience. I’m using an external tool to map the ideal layout. Stardew Valley has its tendrils in me, and it’s not letting go.
A few remnants of my cynicism remain. Stardew Valley asks you for a few basic details on character creation. As a result, I’m the proud owner of Atrocity Farm. When I find an energy-boosting stardrop fruit, I’m told that my “mind is filled with thoughts of petrol bombs.” It’s like having a friend who teases your latest hobby, but instead it’s my past self mocking me through time. And for good reason. As much as I’m obsessed with the game, I can’t quite deal with how gosh darned nice it is.
Pelican Town feels sickly sweet. Its inhabitants are mostly unfailingly polite, even when they don’t much care for you. Living in Stardew Valley is like being indoctrinated into a cult, only without the underlying tragedy. It’s the version of the countryside people who’ve never lived in the countryside dream of moving to. I did live in the countryside. It was boring and full of jerks and cow shit. Not necessarily a higher percentage of jerks than you’d find anywhere else, but when there’s less people around they tend to stand out. Rural life is full of gossip, and polite, silent judgement. Here, I can’t even tell people about the mayor’s fling with the ranch owner.
I’ve come to admire and embrace the few dark edges that exist in the game. I’ve almost entirely ignored the NPCs, because I can’t bring myself to join their saccharine community. My favourite character is Haley, because her borderline disgust at my appearance and work feels honest. I’ve embraced the life of an embittered loner in protest at the townspeople’s anodyne pleasantries. I’ve taken to rummaging through bins as characters walk by. It grosses them out, which I find funny. Plus, I once found a pufferfish that someone had thrown away. I sold it for 200 gold.