By: Molly Lorette, Peak Associate
With tensions and stress running high in the midst of the current worldwide pandemic, many gamers have turned to low-stress gaming as a method of escapism. Given that Nintendo’s newest addition to the Animal Crossing series, New Horizons, had already been widely anticipated and coincided with the social distancing restrictions, the Crossing-mania skyrocketed. However, if you’re like me and don’t own a Switch, you may feel a little left out of the gaming community’s newest hot ticket. Additionally, with multiple business closures and cutbacks on hours, many students may find themselves out of work. This means spending a ton of money on a console or a digital version of the game is not possible.
However, if the colourful and lighthearted nature of a pastoral life simulator is still appealing, I would like to point you in the direction of indie game, Stardew Valley. This game is readily available on multiple different platforms including PC, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox, iOS, Android, Luix, and Switch, making it much more accessible than New Horizons. Not willing to drop a lot of money? You’re in luck! Generally, the retail price ranges from $10 to $20 CAD depending on the console you choose to use.
Both New Horizons and Stardew Valley share multiple similarities. In both games, your character joins a small and close-knit rural community, where you harvest fish, crops, and fossils for the sake of improving your quality of life, as well as the town itself. Both games contain an engaging cast of villagers to befriend or loathe silently (though the characters don’t tend to react when you hit them with various tools like they would in New Horizons. Shame). However, while Stardew Valley does offer the ability to invite friends onto your farm, it seems to mostly be single-player oriented.
In Stardew Valley, the player has inherited acreage from their late grandfather. They escape the crippling burden of their desk job in order to explore a relationship with both nature and their new small community, which is being threatened by the evil mega corporation, Joja. The game is rather open in its possibilities, and doesn’t require you to follow specific tasks. However, one of the main quests available to you is the restoration of a decrepit community centre by collecting and harvesting various items which you can find throughout the playable world. An aspect that I appreciate about the community centre is that the game forces you to take your time, as you generally have to play through a full in-game year to acquire a vast majority of the required items. As a matter of fact, I only just finished my bundles recently for the first time, which took me around 53 real-time hours.
While competitive and fast-paced games are fun, I’ve always had a soft spot for sandbox style games such as The Sims, Minecraft, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing where I am allowed to roam and interact with the game as I please. Seeing as the premise of Stardew Valley is the escape from 9–5 corporate jobs, the slower pace of the game seems to mirror something similar to the sentiment of avoiding the rush of modernity. As mundane as it seems, the routine of caring for your farm animals, crops, and greeting your fellow villagers is remarkably calming.
In contrast to Animal Crossing’s seemingly endless villagers, my favourite aspect of Stardew Valley is the smaller set of citizens available to socialize with, befriend, gift items to, and even marry in certain cases. The characters all have unique backstories and distinct personalities which can be explored, and even deal with more mature, realistic issues. This includes depression, alcoholism, PTSD, aging, and homelessness depending on which characters are befriended. Seeing these beloved characters struggle with these issues truly fleshed out the playable world around me, and drew me further into the story.
Recently, every time I find myself anxious I tend to turn to my PC for comfort and boot up Stardew Valley. It has served as a happy place for me over the past few weeks, and permits me to slow down and take a breather while I explore the countryside around me. If you ever similarly wish to escape, relive the nostalgia of 8-bit, or just give sandbox gaming a try, I would highly recommend trying Stardew Valley!
If one day I just buy a farm and run away from all my responsibilities, you’ll know what happened to me, and you’ll know what game to blame.