All these months over all these years, and I’ve been lying to you. I say I’m ‘now playing’ something or other – and I do play whatever it is, sometimes a lot – but my heart’s never been in it. Because my heart belongs to Stardew Valley, as it has since 2016. This was no more apparent to me than all the way back in issue 14 – May of 2019, five-point-seven billion years ago – when I realised I’d accidentally started living out Stardew in my real life.
That didn’t last. Two things – got a dog, married to a space genius who likes dungarees – remained, but living on a farm in the countryside with plentiful gardening (‘weeding’) and growing my own produce went the way things do when you move to another home that has what scholars refer to as ‘a crap garden’. I’ll get it back, one day, because I miss it. But one thing that hasn’t gone away is Stardew Valley. It has lasted, it has remained, it will prevail when all else in this world is dead. Oops, that went grim quick.
Since last writing about it, the game has had two major updates (and plenty more minor ones) – and a board game has been released. I have it on pre-order at the time of writing, because of course I do. But those updates to the video game version have brought with it significant new chunks of Stuff To Do, including a brand new island to explore. A whole new batch of game to waddle through over half a decade after the original game actually came out? Wonderful stuff.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is where I pivot to ‘so I was exploring the new island in Stardew and will now write about it’. Because I wasn’t, and I won’t. No, what I did was go back to my PC save, untouched for a couple of years, to pick up where that left off – it was dropped suddenly when the Vita, PS4, and Switch versions of the game came out because those were all more convenient to play. Heading back to this OG save is like opening a time capsule; seeing how nascent my understanding was of absolutely pillaging the land for all the natural resources – and so profits – it could provide me was cute, in a way. My need to build pretty pathways and little enclosures for each individual fruit tree felt quaint. Fences to keep the animals penned in? Oh past Ian, my sweet summer child. How naive you were.
So it is I’ve gone into this past save – this relic of a pre-enlightened Stardew player – with a mission: to try and retain the spirit in which this version of the game was being played. It wasn’t about naked profit. It wasn’t about ending up with three or four giant pumpkins at the end of the autumn harvest. It certainly wasn’t about selling out to the Joja Corporation. It wasn’t about efficiency, or maximising yield – placing as many sprinklers in ideal positions as possible to automate as much of the growing process as possible, before planting nearly a thousand seeds (which would have been more were it not for my lumber farm taking up significant space)? Perish the thought.
No, I’ve come back to this incarnation of Stardew with the goal of renewing that casual approach. I want to take things slowly, not push myself to complete tick-list goals presented to me. I want to make a farm that works, sure, but I want it to be one that actually looks quite good when you take stock of everything. Yes, the farms on Vita and PS4 and Switch brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds when it came to selling what I’d grown, but the actual farms looked like garbage. You know, like real profit-driven farming operations do.
I’m going to bring beauty into things. Utility, of course, will come into it – the path placement will have to make sense, the fence positioning can’t be more obstacle than useful post-holing. But the overall goal is to revisit that more innocently minded version of playing the game and engage more with the creative aspects of it. If that means drawing rude shapes using crystal path tiles, so be it – I am not guided by my art; my art guides me. If it means placing the Mayor’s underpants front and centre in some form of indoor display… well, I don’t know if I can actually do that, but I’ll certainly try. If it means getting Krobus to move in, then that will be a dream come true. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out.
There’s the beauty of Stardew Valley – even now, years after it released, years after I started playing it, I’m still finding new (old) ways of playing it and enjoying it. Giving myself new challenges and tweaking my approach to mix things up. That’s why it endures, and that’s why it will continue to endure long into my games-playing future, and long after I’ve gone from the pages of Wireframe. Which is right about… now. Be excellent to each other; it’s been a blast.