Escaping real-life woes and taking refuge in the whimsical but still weirdly woeful Stardew Valley

Living on a farm sounds nicer than it probably really is. There are so many things that could go wrong – you get up in the morning ready for a day of fresh air, daisies and baby animals, and find yourself slipping in cow poo before it’s even nine a.m and breaking your back trying to lift hay bales in the barn. I’ve seen farms on TV and I’m pretty sure that kind of thing happens.

Let’s cut to the chase: I’m a career girl who works in an office nine to five, has a mild (read: severe) social media addiction and suffers from a slight case of chronic malaise. Every day is a cycle of Twitter notifications, new Tumblr followers and agonising over which Instagram filter complements the olive undertones in my skin. Video games are just as maddening: full of guns, guilt and self-loathing.

This is why I was so attracted to Stardew Valley. Despite my knack for doom and despair, whimsy tickles me, and the game looks like a reprieve from everyday worries. Just looking at its pixel art and listening to the sweet music makes me feel breezy. And putting aside my doubts over its idealised slice of rural living, I’m confident that growing parsnips will be a piece of risotto compared to mag deadlines.

Things don’t start well. When creating my character, I spend at least 45 minutes wondering which jumper best represents me as an individual and going back and forth between two shades of dark brown hair. When that’s done, I decide to call my farm ‘Cherry Blossom Farm’ except I miss out the M and accidentally call it Cherry Blosso Farm. I don’t know how to change it and now everyone who meets me is going to think I’m a moron. Frustration sets in.

I also feel a little bad taking all of this land from my grandfather at the beginning of the game. Like, did we have any kind of relationship? Did I sit on his knee as a child and ask him to tell me stories from wartime or whatever? I feel like my youthful entitlement and millennial greed are what really killed him. I glance at a book my mum got me for Christmas, Women Who Think Too Much, and sigh.

I quickly fall in love with the game. My farm is cute despite the rampant destruction, and I like my little wooden house and its selection of soft furnishings. I mean, there is that weird mayor who leaves messages outside my house late at night, but every town has its resident creeper I suppose. The farm itself is a mess, but that’s okay. I find that cracking rocks and cutting down annoying foliage is oddly satisfying, especially with the little swishy sound effects that accompany each action.

That night, however, I wake up with a hammering pulse. I realise that this farm is an overgrown paradise and I’m bending it to my own whims! It’s so typical of humans to corrupt the natural landscape. I confess my worries to a friend the next day. “You’re overthinking this,” she says. “Shut up,” I reply, bookmarking my place in Women Who Think Too Much.

Once my anxiety settles down, a lovely sort of repetition begins to kick in. I diligently remember to water my plants every day, toil the earth in neat little patches and even begin saving up for some cows. Unfortunately I start having fever dreams where giant Venus flytraps sprout up and devour me, but that’s typical of me I think.

There are so many things about Stardew Valley that I wish could apply to real life. Like that lady on the TV who tells you your fortune every morning. I can just imagine her saying, “Hey, stay away from the guy in the blue jumper who listens to Depeche Mode even though it’s not the ‘80s anymore. He’s cute but dumb.”

Growing vegetables and foraging out in the forest is also the perfect pastime for a foodie like me. If only there were a crossover between Stardew Valley and Overcooked where I could make an array of meals with all my veg. I spend so much time fantasising about this that 12 game hours pass and I realise that I’m standing in someone’s garden in middle of the night like a freak.

I love my farm so much I end up spending all my time there. I know we’re supposed to visit the locals but everyone skeeves me out a bit. I keep expecting a twist where it turns out everyone’s in a Wicker Man-esque cult and I’ll be burnt during a May Day festival – I mean, have you noticed everyone is a super babe in this game? Maybe they’ve discovered the gift of eternal youth and beauty?

I miss all of their birthdays and am quite sure everyone hates me. Whatevs. I’m that cute but weird recluse, just like in real life. Wait, wasn’t this game supposed to be about escapism? I blink at the screen solemnly and decide to plant some more strawberry seeds before dark.

This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.

Kimberley Ballard

Kimberley Ballard is the former Production Editor of SFX, T3, and Official Xbox Magazine, and was once the Communications Manager of Future Plc. Kimberly left the business in 2020 to pursue a job in the video game industry; she is currently stationed at Creative Assembly, where she works as an Associate Brand Manager for the Total War series.