I love games. The older I get, the more I appreciate the really good games and how they can make you feel. When I say ‘feel’ I mean more than just the storyline and whatever any in-game character has to say, but how accomplishment feels. The accomplishment is what gives you the drive to continue, to improve upon a strategy or to crawl though the Skinner box to experience the endorphin rush of getting a new item. Games are good like that, where they can offer the same drive as reading the next page in a novel or watch the next episode of a serial. What’s different about games is that you can sometimes fuck that right to hell, sometimes on purpose.
So let me talk about Stardew Valley for a while. It’s a farming simulator, except it’s really a lot more exciting than that. You create your character and head off to your grandfather’s farm to make a new life, fresh off the high of quitting your soulless job at the Joja corporation. You start with a farmhouse and a lot of land, land that is covered with brush, logs, stones, and otherwise needing a lot of work. That’s Day One, and from there you can make your fortune however you see fit. Buy seeds from nearby Pelican Town and plant crops, taking care to water and fertilize them. Fish the lakes, oceans, or rivers that are nearby. Go to the mines and fight off the resident creatures for jewels and raw metals (if this seems excessive, this game takes place in what must be the most idyllic slice of resource-rich land ever discovered).
Stardew Valley offers up a fantastic game that I love coming back to. It scratches a lot of different itches and it does most of them well. If it doesn’t do a part perfectly (like, for example, the combat is fairly basic) then you are mostly free to not pursue it and move on with farming or fishing or burning the locals.
Oh yeah, burning the locals.
You see, like Mr Smith posited in the movie “The Matrix”, humans can not, WILL NOT accept a perfect, ideal world. And Stardew Valley can reach a point where everything is pretty damned perfect. Take the scenario I found my character T’aint Puhnberg in after approaching year 4 of game time (that’s about 480 in-game days). T’aint was happily married to local crystal enthusiast and waitress at the local pub. They had a child together, humorously named ‘Mistake’, that they nevertheless at least spoke to from time to time to keep them docile. He had barns full of wine casks, which were filled with fruits both domestic and exotic 24/7, producing more money than anyone could realistically spend. T’aint had also captured the hearts and minds of ALL of the residents of the town, even the sentient blob of pitch in the sewer. They loved me, they straight LOVED me, probably because I remembered everyone’s birthdays (I mean, the calendar helpfully tells you what everyone’s birthdays are, this is a small town after all). T’aint would receive pancakes and lumber and berry cobbler and other such goodies in the mail every day. I had a room that was filled with machines that produced diamonds, FIFTY DIAMONDS every couple of days.
Suffice to say, I decided to shake things up.
I decided that T’aint needed to abide by a few new life rules. He had his rise, it was time for him to experience a hedonistic, self-absorbed, bombastic fall. Thus, whereas before I would make sure to give out excellent gifts for the residents on their birthdays, now I was… well, maybe it would be a good time to introduce the list.
Stardew Valley Sadist Rule 1: Research what people hate and deliver that unto them
You can really shatter some illusions about what a kind young man you are by dropping some garbage into the eagerly-anticipating hands of a spindly old lady. If you give people garbage for their birthdays they will be astoundingly offended, so that’s exactly what I was going to do. Those picky little kids went from smarmy to irritated really quickly when I dropped some copper ore in their birthday baskets. I added Void Mayo to the soup at the Luau, and it was just about as satisfied as I have ever been in a video game. I was an anti-gift giving Santa Klaus, like Krampus with better hygene. I hated everyone equally, and everyone would be punished since my choice to self-destruct. Well, to ALMOST everyone. If you could romance them…
SV Sadist Rule 2: Make a Bisexual Love Decagon
The game’s creator made a patch recently where romancing all of the locals of the same sex results in them mass-dumping you, but I am happy to say that I was attempting to make everyone upset with T’aint a bit before that. Meaning, I was able to experience asking everyone in town (that I was not currently married to) on a date. Pierre, the store’s owner, must have been really choking back some words as I asked his daughter to go steady with T’aint by way of the flowers I just bought. This is because I already asked Elliot, the local writer, if we would be my steady guy, just yesterday. In the very same store in front of Pierre. I’d like to think that T’aint shot Pierre a look that says “Go ahead, say something, look like a peener in front of your daughter”. Anyway, just buy bouquets 10 total times and give them to everyone in town who will take them, and go ahead and continue living this dangerous life you have suddenly made for yourself. Speaking of that,
SV Sadist Rule 3: Abandon Your Creations Like It’s the Bible
Your wife is probably going to be mad. Spouses in this game will lose some points to jealousy if you sleaze up the rest of the town (as I was), and you will *probably* hear about it when you get home. Fortunately, I was able to saunter up to the mayors house, fill out some curated, lawyer-free paperwork, and that night was the night I was single again, no input from spouse required! It was sad to see the life we had created together end, but this is now a pain simulation and by golly we had to follow through. The saddest part is your spouse will take their little ‘me time’ room off of the house when they go, but thems the breaks. I guess I get to keep Mistake, but that just comes down to me ignoring her (him?) every day anyway. That kid must sneak food from the fridge, because I know I never make effort to feed it. I could use an in-game totem to turn my kid into a dove that would take to the skies, freeing me up for further reckless procreation, but I decided that I really hated the idea of it being free. Neglect was more evil, I decided, as T’aint walled the kid off in its room with fluffy toys and a comically large Junimo figurine. T’aint was now well on his way to whatever the opposite of sainthood was, but he knew that there had to be more.
SV Sadist Rule 4: Start Inking In Your Love Decagon
Hey, is it raining and you have at least one person (or in this case, 10) that you are romantically involved with? Then guess what, you are now eligible to purchase a shell from a creepy man on the far side of the beach that is the Stardew Valley equivalent of the wedding band. Elliot was really rocking that boyish smile, so I asked him for commitment right then and there (he lives on the near side of the beach, so call it a marriage of convenience). The next night he moved in. But something felt wrong. Maybe I rushed this whole second marriage thing, especially considering the sexual revolution that T’aint was apparently undergoing at the same time. Thanks to the seemingly perfect law of the land, I found T’aint, sobbing and inconsolable, writing his signature on the second divorce paper of the week. Elliot would have no idea until we demolished his newly rebuilt addition on my house.
To be frank I don’t even remember what he built in there. Books?
Stay tuned for the remainder of the rules and how they improved MY life, if not necessarily T’aint’s life.