WHAT WE'RE PLAYING
Stardew Valley is the sweetest escape
The indie game phenomenon is here. Tap for more.
ConcernedApe's hit farm RPG
The world needs Stardew Valley right now. In the opening sequence, you’re whisked away from your sad, grey office cubicle and dropped into a charming, dreamlike world that revolves around farming and friendship. It sounds like just the ticket.
So to start, you’ll plant and harvest crops, sell your wares, buy raw materials and build up a little farm of your own. But what has made this game so successful on PC and consoles is the rich world built around all of this – the people to meet, plotlines to follow and mysteries to unravel.
It’s the flexibility of the play, too. You can’t ever ‘lose’ in Stardew Valley, and you can explore at any pace you want. If you want to maximise your farm’s yield for huge profits, go for it. Want to meet people, fall in love and start a family? You can do that too. And there are other surprising subplots waiting to be discovered, too.
As the seasons change, so too does the world around you. And your relationship with this little world grows deeper.
So it’s remarkable that all of this was created by just one man. Eric Barone made his magnum opus over the course of four and a half years, teaching himself game development as he went.
You can really feel his devotion to this world in every pixel. “I wanted to play a game that gave me the same sense of wonder that the old-school Harvest Moon games did, but with more content and modern gameplay features,” Barone tells us. “That game just didn’t exist, so I decided to create it myself.”
Because of the depth and diversity of the world Barone created, Stardew Valley is the subject of countless YouTube videos. Often, it’s because players have stumbled across something no other player has seen before.
Indeed, several years after its initial release on PC, Stardew Valley still holds a few undiscovered secrets. “There may be one or two very obscure easter eggs that I’ve never seen anyone mention,” teases Barone.
And for what appears to be a cutesy, retro farming game, there’s real bite to the storyline. Stardew Valley has a message, and one that feels so right for right now.
The Joja Corporation is present throughout the game through its retail outlet, omnipresent fizzy drink brand and various other (vaguely sinister) ventures. It is the “embodiment of unbridled crony-capitalism,” says Barone, but the message here is more nuanced than simply ‘capitalism is bad’.
“Somewhat ironically, you as the protagonist own a for-profit farm, become enormously wealthy as a result, and pay no taxes whatsoever,” says Barone, mischievously.
Ultimately, the game encourages what Barone calls “conscientious capitalism”. In Stardew Valley, “choosing to follow your dreams, form real relationships and help out your neighbours makes for a better life than being greedy,” he adds.
Amen to that. Stardew Valley is a lot of things at once – a retro farming sim, role-playing game, YouTube-friendly easter egg hunt, even a pin-sharp social commentary. But ultimately, it’s a welcome escape into a purer, more innocent world.