Purpose in the Machine: ‘Stardew Valley’

Celebrating the beautiful monotony of ‘Stardew Valley’

Written by Mike Perna / Published on April 26, 2016

Get up.

Go to work.

Sit in your cube.

At the beginning of Stardew Valley, your grandfather hands you a note with a set of instructions that are precisely vague. Don’t open this now. There will come a time in the future when you feel crushed by the pressures of the modern world. When that happens, then and only then should you open it and read what’s inside. When next you see reference to your grandfather’s name, it is on a gravestone.

Do your job.

Go home.

Go to sleep.

By now you have more than likely run into the narrative being set up here. Grandpa knows that a life spent aimlessly staring at a computer screen punching numbers for a faceless corporation will be too much to bear. Years later, the envelope lives in the drawer of your cubicle. One in a sea of cubes in a gray world where the only light is the blinking green “work” light on the wall. You crack that open and ask yourself, “Is farm life what I’ve been waiting for my whole life?”

Go to Sleep.

Wake up.

Repeat.

stardew valley2

If you’ve ever played one of the Harvest Moon games, or even found yourself under the crippling bell-debt of Animal Crossing, the base mechanics awaiting you in the Valley will not be unfamiliar. Your grandfather’s old farm is in ruins—overgrown, covered in rocks, and broken down. You get to work cutting down trees, tilling the land, and planting your crops while you dream of one day building barns and coops to house all the animals you’ll raise.

Get up.

Go to work.

Water the plants.

It doesn’t take long before you start seeing actual profit. You can start upgrading your tools, discovering new plants and fish, building new bridges, and even getting some chickens, cows, or sheep. They’ll need to be fed though, so you’ll have to add that to your morning routine. However, in your efforts to bring in the money, make sure you save some of your choice crops and resources in case somebody in town needs them.

Harvest crops.

Make Friends.

Go to sleep.

In your efforts to keep the farm going, tend to the animals, figure out what presents people like so they’ll become your friends, and dive into the local mine to fight slimes and find ore. Make sure you bring goods to the strange little spirit-creatures in the broken down community center because OF COURSE there are strange little spirit-creatures in the broken down community center. As you do these things, you may ask yourself, “What’s the difference between this and your corporate routine. Isn’t it just the same thing, just with a different environment? How many times did people in town tell me I was working too hard and that I need a break anyway?

Wake up tomorrow.

Repeat.

The game starts with your character thinking he’s going to escape the soulless machine. However, from the moment you get off the bus in Stardew Valley, you are already caught in the teeth of a new and different machine. However, there is a distinct difference here. While the character you play has no voice, your interactions with the people in town make you think that there is value and even joy squeezed out of routine and hard labor. You make friends. You build something from nothing. You can even go to the library and see your contributions to town culture. There’s this feeling that you may have entered another machine, but this one has soul. Make no mistake, it is another machine, but it’s more than that. It’s the start of a new and beautiful work, one that might change your whole world.

About the Author:

Mike Perna is a storyteller and player of great games. He is the founder of InnRoads Ministries and cohost of the Game Store Prophets podcast. email: mike@innroadsministries.com Twitter: @mikethebard / @innroads