I’ve been taking a much more pastoral outlook on life lately. Well, as pastoral as you can get while still playing video games. I’m talking about Stardew Valley, a charming little game about running a farm in a delightful little 2D world.
It’s a game completely on the opposite end of the scale from the others I’ve mentioned. Here, there’s no genocide of law enforcers, no sneaking around trying to pull off the perfect murder. There’s just a run-down farm, a watering can, some farm tools and you.
The game isn’t combat free- there’s a mine full of monsters- but if you want you can go the whole game without ever swinging a sword. And that’s the appeal of the game, you can save the farm any way you choose; plant crops, forage for berries, go heavy into lumberjacking, take up fishing, become a miner or befriend the villagers for help. I’ve been completely sucked doing all of these to make some money to expand my farm. I’m looking at diversifying into chickens next!
I never thought that these farming sim games (not to be confused with the game Farming Simulator, which is about driving tractors) would be up my alley, but in retrospect of course they are. I really enjoy games about optimising production chains; I got a big kick out of seeing a well-running passenger network in Transport Tycoon and thinking “yep, I did that”. Stardew is along the same lines, but a bit more laid back about it. I could be doing nothing but planting the highest return crops, but I’m having a lot of fun engaging with all the systems
The one problem I have is that, well, I am seeing it as systems rather than engaging with the setting. It’s like the opposite of that scene from the Matrix – “I don’t even see the villager anymore, it’s just code that needs item:salad every week”. I’m not a hopeless case though, I am finding some of the villager interactions are charming and it’s honestly doing a fairly good job of making the inhabitants believable but idealised rural village denizens.
That said, I suspect that the charm is beginning to overwhelm the desire to optimise; I just bought someone an expensive gift because a random dialogue said they’d like one, despite knowing full well I’d get the same mechanical benefits giving them a berry I found on the ground for free. I’m not entirely seeing code just yet…