Tag Archives: Nihilism

Depression in Stardew Valley Sucks: Part Two

Part One is here.

After platinuming Death Stranding (something I recommend only masochists do) I started Grand Theft Auto V. I had played it a year or so ago but never fully got into it. I was doing good for about a month — it’s a fantastic game — but it couldn’t stand up to the release of Stardew Valley version 1.5. This updates adds a whole new area to the game as well as local multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. My wife and I started a game and me being the old pro at the game proceeded to boss her until she got the gist of the game. This has been my all-consuming addiction the past two or three weeks.

I can’t shrug off the feeling I get mid/late game though. I get depressed and bored while playing it. I already made a post complaining about video games endings and how games like Stardew Valley are especially depressing because they don’t have a hard ending. You can play the game literally forever raking in cash, fucking around, and whatever else you can find to do. Eventually nihilism comes in and you wonder what exactly it’s all for; does your in-game person even have a purpose in their life or is it just to make as much money before you die get bored and quit?

Having already written about that particular topic I didn’t think I’d have much more to say about it, but Stardew gives me a few more things to muse about because it tosses a bunch of capitalism and automation into the “everything is pointless” nihilism of late-game.

Stardew Valley, if you’ve never played, is a farming simulator. On it’s surface it’s a kid’s game; it’s easy, you can’t really die or fail the game, and if you want you can ignore your farm and fuck off the entire game with zero penalties. Sure, you’ll be poor, but since you don’t need to eat food or anything it’s fine. The music is cute, the art style is that of mid 1990s SNES games, and the whole thing basically shits cute/friendly/laid-back vibes. Until you get to the plot that is.

You inherit your farm from your dead grandpa. You leave your soulless, life-draining corporate job at Joja Mart (basically a stand-in for Walmart/greedy capitalism in general) to farm in Stardew Valley. The game stresses the importance of hard work and community, making real connections with real people doing fulfilling manual labor to contribute to your society. If you look slightly past the pretty/cute surface, the game emits anti-capitalism vibes and seems to be a statement against our current society where making money seems to be the most important thing to do in life. Why can’t we all leave our Joja Mart jobs and go farm in Stardew Valley?!

Now I don’t know if this is intentional on the video game creator’s part, but it seems most playthroughs end with you becoming exactly what you’ve been fighting against the whole time. Somehow I don’t think this was intentional. Game progression has to come from somewhere and starting with a quaint farm and turning it into a fucking money making machine makes sense progression-wise. But looking back on my current playthrough I wonder what the real message of Stardew Valley is, intentional or not. Is it that you can’t escape the rat-race? That every wonderful dream-fulfilling career turns into a slog? That there’s no escape from this? That eventually all you care about is making as much money as efficiently as possible? That you want to make the farm as easy to manage and as automated as possible because work fucking sucks?

At the start of the game, you’re a hard working farmer. You only have about 20 plants and you need to water them every day. You chop down trees, water, harvest the plants, and go to bed at like 5 p.m. because you’re so damn exhausted. This is fun for the first few seasons, but as the farm grows the work load increases. The chores start to feel like chores. You naturally want to make as much money as possible — who doesn’t? — so you upgrade your tools to make the job easier. You can eventually water 3, 5, and 9 plants in one go, so you expand the cropland. You now have 100-200 plants and diversify your farm into animals and artisan products. You make some fish ponds, start brewing wine and aging it, and before you know it you’re rolling in more money than you know what to do with. You endlessly farm for iridium ore so you can make the best damn watering sprinklers in the game — you’re sick of watering the damn crops everyday and just want enough sprinklers so you don’t have to do a damn thing on the farm anymore.

You also start doing a bunch of math to find out the best crops on a gold per day basis; some crops just aren’t worth fucking around with. You start growing only one or two crops to maximize your income. You know not to turn iridium-tier goat milk into cheese because you’ll take a slight loss on it. Let’s not forget the opportunity cost of making cheese either! You install junimo huts on the farm so you don’t even need to harvest the produce anymore: let the illegals junimos do all the work! You invest in the ‘auto-grabber’ tool so you don’t need to pick up eggs or milk the cows anymore. Hell, there’s even an ‘auto-petter’ that loves on the farm animals so you don’t even need to interact with them to keep them happy anymore. In a few short years you become Capitalism Incarnate.

Yesterday while playing my wife took care of everything on the farm and mentioned that she didn’t use any energy in the day. It was time for bed, she had been busy, but her energy bar was still maxed out. Holy shit, what happened? Remember the good ole days when we had to actually work on the farm and chop trees and pick vegetables? It was only a few years ago, but now our farm is so automated and easy to run that there’s not even a game to play anymore. Everything is a chore; you wake up, check the wine casks in the basement, sell and restock as necessary and that’s about it. I think that’s the point I’m trying to make here. The game wants you to use these fancy upgrades because that’s how it shows progression, but the progression is all about making the game easier and you lazier as time goes on. And as this happens you just don’t care anymore. As the work becomes easier, it becomes less fulfilling, and after the end of the third year you can’t help but feel that something went wrong, that this wasn’t the dream you had, and that you’re working another Joja Mart-type job, and worse, it’s a fate you walked into thinking it’d be better for your mental and spiritual health.

Like I said, I don’t think think this is exactly what Concerned Ape, the creator of the game, was trying to say, but the game is saying it anyway, and is saying it better than any other games trying to make this point. You try to escape corporate hell by farming but end up making your farm into a massive cash-making machine. All you care about is how big you can make that number at the top of the screen even if you have nothing to spend it on. You’re just as bad as Joja Mart, aren’t you? And by making things easier for yourself with better tools/automation, you take the achievement out of what you’re doing, but you’ve been wanting to get out of work all along, weren’t you? But now that the hard work is past you realize you don’t have shit to do, so you do what I’ve been doing in game. You set up a bonfire and some chairs around it in a quiet, unused portion of your farm, and sit ponding your purpose at 3 p.m. “My life in Stardew Valley sucks now. I’m rich but I’m bored. What the hell am I supposed to do now…?”

Not sure why I have three other chairs; I have no friends in Stardew Valley.

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Life Sucks (as a Video Game)

The author Kurt Vonnegut touched upon the idea that everyone thinks they’re the protagonist of the world they’re in and everyone else are NPCs — the people that only exist to serve the protagonist. Check this out from his novel Breakfast of Champions:

I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.

He then goes on to blame the current state of society on this flawed outlook promoted by stories, writers, and other artists. It’s a decent book, Check it Out!

Stevie!

I don’t think we all have that extremely dark view of society but I do think most of us view ourselves as “the primary hero” while other people are just sort of there. I also think the only people that really get outside of that worldview are probably Buddhist monks or something. This obviously becomes a problem because, well, we’re probably not the main character and are most likely random NPCs ourselves. By thinking you’re the hero and living a pretty average and mundane life you think you’re a total failure. You’re not saving the world so what are you even doing?

Video games are guilty of promoting this worldview and self-image in everyone the same as other forms of entertainment. In games you usually play as a hero and do some hero shit like saving the world or defeating some Evil Power™. This obviously isn’t realistic and considering that, what would a game be like that was as accurate to real life as possible? Many games have mechanics that simulate parts of real life (the Grand Theft Auto series comes to mind) but those occurs on a superficial level. Sure you can drive cars like in real life but the lack of consequences in GTA breaks any real comparison. The Sims do a good job too, especially with the game-breaking existential crisis that inevitably occurs after playing for too long. Real life also has much more due to chance while games put you in charge of nearly everything. So, what would that game look like?

To start, it’d be boring and no one would want to play it. The Life Game would consists of you doing some stupid and boring task for hours and hours while earning hardly any useful in-game cash. Everything you need to buy is also really expensive. Instead of buying the best car ever you can only afford a shitty, 15-year-old vehicle to get you to and from work just so you can continue to make shitty money. Food also takes up the rest of the cash you earn. It’d be hours upon hours of absolute nothingness to just buy food and other essential items.

As the game starts you could randomly die as well. This is mostly dependent upon where you’re born which is totally due to chance. You could spawn in a poor country and die in the first few minutes thanks to malnourishment or disease and there’s nothing you can do to change your fate. Once you start the game that’s what you are given. You could end up in a decent area where healthcare is abundant, but you could also, by chance, end up in a shithole and die within a short timespan.

You could be born into a family that has tons of money, but that would be really rare. Once again you don’t have any choice in all of that because it’s all random. Being rich would also take all the fun out of The Life Game because you can do whatever you want with little to no challenge. At least starting off poor gives you a challenge somewhat. If you’re not starting off in abject poverty that is.

Another fun aspect of The Life Game is that you could randomly die at anytime. You could be in the safest area possible but someone could randomly kill you with a bus or a gun or whatever. Sometimes even airplanes fall onto your house although that is reserved for only the most unluckiest people. The same is true for lightning. But the fact is that anyone could die at anytime with little to no warning. The Life Game doesn’t care about what quest your on or how important you are or how much cash you have and you’ll just randomly die.

The most interesting aspect of The Life Game would be the lack of a main quest. You’d think this might be fun because you can “make your own goals” but after a few hours the gameplay just lacks meaning. It’ll be like Minecraft or The Sims where you have a pretty decent time exploring and learning the game mechanics and creating useless bullshit, but then the lack of a main quest gets to you. Eventually in Minecraft or The Sims you look around the world and realize this is it. Then you quit playing because you’re bored and the game is meaningless. The same happens in Kerbal Space Program after you’ve explored the entire solar system. There simply isn’t anything left to do. The same would happen in The Life Game because there’s no reason or purpose for you to be there. There are side quests to accomplish but those are usually shitty by giving you little reward for completing them or by being too hard to actually accomplish in the first place. You could sell your furniture on Craigslist or get a PhD in astrodynamics for example. Or you could blog about how shitty The Life Game is. But you don’t have to because they’re side quests. There is no world to save, no overarching evil to destroy, and no princess to save. You could just do nothing. So what do you even do in this game?

And one last thing: The Life Game only lets you play once. Some people think that you might get to play multiple times but they don’t know that for sure. If you’re the unlucky soul that dies in the first five minutes of the game, well, too bad but that’s all you get! The ones who make it farther into the game should feel special for doing so well, but since the game is so shitty no one really feels good about it. Hell, some people even quit the game on purpose. That’s how terrible The Life Game is.

If life was a video game is would fucking Suck. There wouldn’t be a main quest and the difficulty curve would be ridiculous but in a really lame and cheap way. You’d just die randomly and without good cause. Sometimes you’d just die as soon as you started the game, once again without cause or reason. Some people spawn in ridiculously privileged ways and others are spawned in ridiculously unfair conditions. You dick around trying to keep yourself busy but since there isn’t a main quest nothing ever seems very pointful. The Life Game Sucks.