Tag Archives: Stardew

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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Depression in Stardew Valley Sucks

A few days ago I became legitimately depressed while playing Stardew Valley. It was both kinda funny and sad at how awful I felt over the game; I didn’t know whether I should laugh about it or feel depressed by being depressed by a video game, let alone Stardew Valley. This incident also shined some light on my own personality and the lack of self confidence I have in life. This post will probably be deeper than you might expect from a Stardew Valley inspired post, but here goes.

(I wrote a second post about Stardew Valley if you’re interested!)

Here’s where I give a shitty overview of the game in case people don’t know what I’m talking about: Stardew Valley is a game where you farm stuff and live in a tiny village. You can talk to, befriend, and even marry some of the residents in the town. I don’t know how important all of that is to the main story of the game, but the game does stress the aspect of community, which freshens it up from being only a farming simulator. Anyway, it’s also a cutesy, 2D top down, “kiddie game” as one of my friends described it. This almost makes the incident worse because as stated it’s a kids game: It shouldn’t punch me right in the feels, especially as directly as it did.

In-game Jeremy wandering the fuck around.

There’s a community dance (The Flower Dance) that happens in the forest around day 25. It’s an optional thing to do so whatever, no big deal. I went to the dance because I’m trying to be the friendly new guy in town who is trying his damndest to fit in and be accepted in the community. I should also say that up to this point in the game I’ve been a very diligent and socially-isolated farmer: I’m toiling away in my fields every single day either chopping wood for fertilizer, planting/harvesting/watering the crops, or running into town to buy more seeds. While some people might be fucking around socializing in town all day, I’m trying to turn my farm into the most fantastic farm ever and give the community something to be proud of. Because fuck the JoJa Corporation and Capitalism in general. I’m all about seizing the means of production, even if I haven’t told Mayor Lewis any of my intentions yet…

Pam is a beauty…

So Jeremy who is the new resident of Stardew Valley — let’s call him in-game Jeremy — shows up to the dance and starts talking to people. Some of the townsfolk he sort of knowns, and others appear to be new faces. Mayor Lewis allows in-game Jeremy to decide when the dance should actually start (since the game sort of revolves around in-game Jeremy for some terrible reason. Unbeknownst to in-game Jeremy he is, in fact, the player character. The story literally revolves around him). After talking to most of the people, in-game Jeremy realizes that he can ask people to dance with him. Oh shit! He accidentally discovered this when he asked the emo gothic guy to dance with him. Luckily he said no but it was still awkward. (“Hey bro, you want to dance with me? No homo tho, I just think those skinny jeans look really good on you. Your ass is…wow.”) In-game Jeremy then proceeds to confidently ask the females, being picky at first but then growing desperate and asking anyoneeven the trashy, alcoholic Pam but you can’t actually ask her — if they would like to dance. They usually replied with something like this:

“Oh! Oh! I’m sorry…I, er…have plans to ask someone else.”

“I’m flattered! But…no.”

“That’s flattering…but I’m gonna have to say no. Sorry.”

“I’ll be honest. I don’t want to dance with you.”

“Eww…No.”

Holy fuck game, thanks for the hefty dose of rejection. So in-game Jeremy, with no one to dance with, finally walks up to Mayor Lewis and gives him the go-ahead to start the dance. In game Jeremy wants to just get the stupid-ass dance over with so he can head back home and go to sleep. He’s sick of these people, their rejection, and their unappreciation of him, his hard work, and his farm.

After the dance in-game Jeremy goes to his house and goes to bed. It’s night and there’s nothing to do. He almost thought about watering the crops before bed, but fuck the plants too, they can wait. In the morning, in-game Jeremy stares at the crops and doesn’t actually want to do any work, but he sure as fuck isn’t going to town today to socialize with those assholes. He doesn’t want to work on the crops but there’s nothing else to do with his life so he begrudgingly gets to work. Watering. Weeding. Planting. Harvesting. Urgh. Not that anyone appreciates it. “Fuck this place,” In-game Jeremy says as he toils in the fields the day after the dance.

A few days later, still feeling shitty but not quite as shitty, in-game Jeremy realizes that it’s Emily’s birthday, and that he should give her a gift. Maybe a flower? After he picks a few flowers and heads into town he stops and thinks, “Is she even going to like this? She probably won’t even give a shit if I give her a gift or not. If anything it’ll be the wrong gift and she’ll hate me.” In-game Jeremy goes up to the “shipping bin” where you place products your farm has created, and chucks the flowers into that. Emily has no idea in-game Jeremy was even going to give her a gift and goes about her day knowing nothing of the conflict that occured in in-game Jeremy’s head or the gift that she almost received. In-game Jeremy continues to sulk and overthink things as he tends to his garden daily. “Pretty sure all those fuckers hate me,” he thinks to himself.

The next day in-game Jeremy finally drags his ass into town. He ran into Haley, a young and beautiful blonde lady who lives in town. He tries talking to her, just to say “Hi” or “How’s your day going?” The game informed in-game Jeremy that: 

HALEY IS IGNORING YOU

“Maybe you should, like, kill yourself? No one likes you or your stupid farm!”

Jesus Christ, Stardew Valley is depressing as fuck.

In-game Jeremy then stops into Pierre’s store to find some rope for a noose, but sadly Pierre doesn’t sell rope. Not that in-game Jeremy has unlocked the noose-crafting recipe anyways. In-game Jeremy, as depressed as he is, is hopelessly stuck in the world with no way to escape.

While I was trying to strike a clear difference between me — IRL Jeremy — and my avatar in-game (in-game Jeremy) I found it kinda difficult to do in practice. When you play a game that is as absorbing as Stardew you kinda become the player character and this is a good thing. (“This game really makes you feel like Spiderman!”) While in-game Jeremy felt like shit over being rejected by everyone in town, it also became difficult for IRL Jeremy to also not feel rejected, even if there was no reason to feel that way. While IRL Jeremy was laughing at the brutal and consistent nature of in-game Jeremy’s rejection something inside was also being stirred around. The vague shadow of repressed memories, fears of total social rejection, and loneliness from high school/college swam at the corners of my IRL consciousness. What if everyone I know actually hates me? What do people say about me when I’m not around? Am I really as awkward as I think I am? Does anyone actually appreciate me? It was kinda scary. Faced with the “fun, kid-friendly” story and graphics of Stardew Valley, it almost seemed surreal in a way. This game was making me feel like shit about my own life and had me questioning all my real relationships and my worth in the world.

I also felt bitter and angry towards the damn in-game townsfolk; these people aren’t even real and I was pissed at them! Logically it made sense that no one wanted to dance with in-game Jeremy because he was the new guy in town who has only been around for 25 days (or like 2.5 months if you take Stardew time in terms of a year) and who wasn’t being social at all and made zero effort to interact with anyone. The townsfolk basically saw in-game Jeremy as a recluse farmer who never talks to people but then shows up and creepily asks every person available to dance. No shit they said no! If I was a video game NPC like these people I’d also say no too! In-game Jeremy — you socially-inept idiot — you have to make actual effort in relationships for them to work. And if that isn’t hitting things a bit close for IRL Jeremy as well. I found myself questioning how much effort I put into friendships and if I expect other people to do all the work. Or do I just show up and expect people to like me when I do nothing likeable at all? Do I show enough interest in other people? Or am I self-centered asshole that metaphorically is a recluse farmer who tends his fields all day? Once again I wasn’t expecting goddamn life lessons from Stardew but here we are.

One of the highlights of the game so far. I was pissed and fishing off this bridge just because, and Abigail walked up and stood next to me. She stood there for hours watching me fish and neither of us said anything. In-game Jeremy was utterly focused on catching those damn fish and gave no outward sign of his appreciation, but he loved her for being there keeping him company.

I’m complaining here but you have to give the game credit: usually people play video games just to kill time, to have fun, or to escape the real world for a little bit. To feel some progress in a game world to counteract the utter difficulty and lack of progress in the real world. It’s a rare game that somehow acts as a mirror and puts yourself up there on display for you to analyze, especially if said game is usually viewed as a “kids game.” This allows you to lower your defenses and to be vulnerable without you being aware that it’s happening, and not realizing that you’re about to get utterly punched in the feels so aggressively that it resonates with your actual self. Stardew Valley made in-game Jeremy feel like a loser who would never properly fit in with the townsfolk even if he really wanted to, and that made IRL Jeremy also feel the same way, constantly searching for approval, community, and appreciation. The depressive mood didn’t last for long, maybe twenty minutes or so, but it was twenty minutes that I was not prepared for at all. It was an eye-opening experience that I wasn’t at all ready for. Fuck you Stardew Valley for being such a good game.

Related Post: Depression in Stardew Valley Sucks: Part Two

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