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Farming lifestyle sim Stardew Valley is beloved by many, and for home-maker Melanie* it's one of the few games they’ve double dipped on. As someone whose health requires them to often be in hospital, having it on Nintendo Switch and mobile lets it be their go-to game in stressful times.
“It takes me away from the stress of being ill and in a hospital where I'm depending on someone else to come and fix me to somewhere I can solve the problem in front of me fairly easily,” they say. “I can clear this farm - slowly, over many days, but I can do it all on my own.”
Watch a trailer for Stardew Valley, below...
Unlike other games that empower in a save-the-world kind of way, Stardew Valley’s low-stakes achievements can be more restful. “I can forage plants to get enough money to get my new crops and a new hat,” Melanie says, “and there's pleasant music and scenery and no jump scares.”
And the new hat? “The hat is very important! I always want to get that straw hat as a reward for winning the egg hunt at the spring festival, and after that my progress milestones are getting fun new hats.” Their favourite hat to equip farmers with, however, is the sailor’s cap you unlock the first time you win the fishing competition. “And I am not good at the fishing minigame,” Melanie adds – like many of us.
Beyond a comforting and fashionable distraction during hospital stays, Stardew Valley holds a particular role for Melanie as a disabled person. “I mentioned before that I like the feeling of being able to do it By Myself - and I can exist alone in Stardew Valley. All the physical labour that I cannot do in real life I can do in the game. I can make independent decisions about how to run, lay out, and decorate my farm, I can earn my own money, I can make my own purchases.”
Melanie continues: “I'm actually very fortunate and privileged as a disabled person - I have a good support network, and I'm very grateful for the ability to depend on other people for things I wouldn't be able to manage on my own. But I am very conscious all the time of how much I am forced to rely on other people which can feel... upsetting, scary, it really does have an impact on a person.”
Because of the mental and physical load of managing chronic illness on a day-to-day basis, Melanie isn’t able to show care with physical gestures like helping someone move house, or making them dinner. “I sometimes start to feel quite self-centred, even though I'm generally not.” While they've found other ways to express care and give back to others, Stardew Valley became somewhere they can express that desire to physically contribute to a larger whole. “I love the fetch quests! Yes, I will go and fetch you a leek for some best-left-unknown purpose, George! I would love to take time out of my day for that, be right there.”
“[T]he fantasy of just putting in backbreaking work and contributing toward transforming a little run-down town the way the farmer does in Stardew Valley is almost like a power fantasy for me,” Melanie says. “Because Stardew Valley is about that whole community, not just your little farm.”
*Name changed for privacy
This piece is part of a series exploring how people choose to play games their own way, via customisation, character choices, or other forms of inspiration. How they present their 'other me'. Read more: God of War, Destiny 2, Dead By Daylight.
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