I bought Stardew Valley on a whim on the day it was released, having never heard of it before. I have since somehow managed to play more than sixty-five hours inbetween 9-5 work days, teaching, and full-time study, and in that time, the game seems to have taken over the world (as well as me). It has permeated my brain, so that I constantly want to just play through one more day of tending to my farm and animals, collecting preserves and ale, foraging for berries and mushrooms, chopping wood and mining stone, and saving up for that next big upgrade. I’m actually contemplating putting aside this article and playing right now.
…I actually did abandon this article to play Stardew Valley. I have developed an addiction. And I know I’m not the only one.
People everywhere have thrown themselves into Stardew Valley because it has something to offer everyone. To fully capture this, I’m going to refer to one of the taxonomies I’m currently teaching my Serious Games students, so that I can pretend that my addiction is work-related. The developer of Stardew Valley has (either deliberately or accidentally) considered all four of Bartle’s player types: ‘Killers’ can find satisfaction in the combat that fills the mines and the Skull Cavern; ‘Socialites’ can invest their time into the intricate relationship management aspects of the game; ‘Explorers’ can navigate the many hidden or unlockable areas, like the secret forest or the desert; and ‘Achievers’ can spend their time completing all of the bundles and collections1.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of Stardew Valley is that all of these different ways to play coexist harmoniously. Players are given a range of objectives to focus on, but there are rarely negative consequences for neglecting some in favour of others (other than waiting a full in-game year for that one fish that you forgot to catch in the summer). Personally, I prioritised the bundles, then the combat areas, and eventually moved on to relationship management, all the while adjusting and upgrading my farm until it looked ‘perfect’.
The ways that different players have customised their farms is a visual manifestation of the many, varied ways you can play Stardew Valley. Some people opt for a structured look, while others allow their farm to sprawl naturally among the trees and grass; some prioritise crops, while others prioritise animals, and still others prefer a mix of both. I even have a student who is using his farm to make the largest functional brewery that he possibly can.
I have divided my farm into ‘zones’, using paths to limit the spread of trees and grass beyond my desired boundaries. At first I built fences, but I quickly became tired of how frequently they needed to be replaced (and how time-consuming gathering resources for higher-levelled fencing could be). I now only use hardwood fencing around my coop and barn, for the sake of aesthetics. I love simulation games that allow this sort of customisation because I am always immensely proud of the spaces I build. So proud, in fact, that I want to share galleries of screenshots. And, since this is my article, I think I will.
More interesting than how proud I am of my farm, however, is that I can feel like I made the best farm-design decisions, while thinking that other people’s farms are also perfect. This is made most apparent when I compare my farm to that of my friend, Annie, who has also been playing Stardew Valley since the day it was released. (In fact, we bought the game within minutes of each other.)
Annie’s farm makes mine seem ridiculously structured and organised—even more than I ever intended—and looks stunning in fall (while I prefer mine in spring). The easiest way to demonstrate the differences is through screenshots.
Our priorities are different, our style is different, and—most of all—the way we play is different, and I love that Stardew Valley caters for that.