I have played Stardew Valley for approximately 150 hours now. I have six different save files, and I have used mods in four of them, while the other two are completely vanilla. The recent release of version 1.1 brought me back to Stardew Valley and made me think about the games I play in this world: the one the developer intended, and the ones I found myself.
Let me start by telling you about what I use some of my save files for. My two vanilla characters are named Mae and Aether; the former was made in the original Stardew Valley and has 75 hours on record, while the latter was made to take advantage of the new farm layouts introduced in version 1.1. I chose to play this save using the new ‘Riverland Farm’, but that meant the new Hill-top, Forest, and Wilderness farms had to remain unexplored and undecorated if I wanted to do anything besides play Stardew Valley for the rest of my life.
Unless, of course, I used mods.
I have used mods before in one of my other many save files: one made specifically for designing farmhouse layouts. I made farmhouses with a friend for a twitter account called @StardewDesigns; we picked themes and used an item spawner to easily access the furniture and decorations that suited those themes, while also using a cheat menu to quickly get our house upgrades.
I used these same mods to decorate the Hill-top and Forest farms, as well as create a version of the Riverland farm that I could use to ‘plan’ how I would decorate my new vanilla save (because it is much better to mess up item placement when you are using virtual virtual resources rather than real virtual resources). I didn’t bother decorating the Wilderness farm because it closely resembles the Standard farm that I have already spent so many hours in, other than the zombies that would come out to kill me in the evenings. I may, however, get to that one soon enough. I have an addiction.
Of the hours I have spent playing Stardew Valley, approximately a third of them have been spent in these save files where I use mods to do nothing but decorate farms and farmhouses. I don’t use the cheats that help me fish, or fight, or build friendships (although I have no issue with the people who do); I prefer to engage with these game mechanics at the speed the developer intended. And I certainly do enjoy playing Stardew Valley without mods. However, I love Stardew Valley’s art style. I love the wallpaper and furniture and other assets that can be placed in farms and farmhouses. And I want to be able to make a bunch of houses and farms much more quickly than legitimately earning gold and resources in the game would allow.
Here’s the thing: we don’t always play games the way developers intended them to be played. Sometimes we use the boundaries and limitations of the game world (and potentially stretch them a little bit with mods) to find our own fun. Have you ever made a pool in The Sims, put your characters inside it, and removed all the ladders? This isn’t necessarily the game Maxis intended you to play, but it’s fun all the same. I’ve found similar (less murderous) joy with Stardew Valley. Designing spaces in Stardew Valley is a form of creativity that never feels like work (which can be difficult to find when so much of my work requires creativity), and is filled with all of that initial enthusiasm felt when designing new characters and houses in The Sims before you go back to ignoring the game for several months (or years).
I haven’t been alone in this joy. I continue to share my designs through the @StardewDesigns twitter, as well as my own twitter, to excited responses. Beautifully crafted, sometimes impractical farms are an artform that apparently social media can get behind. I can’t wait to see the other designs the Stardew Valley community will create now that version 1.1 is live, whether using mods or not.