What I Learned From:
Stardew Valley is a game that was released in February of 2016, during a time in my life when I was more or less at the end of my metaphorical rope.
I will not detail the tumult I was facing but I will say that this time is about the worst I have ever felt mentally. I will give a bit of recount of where I was at during this time.
It was my second semester at University away from home. I had no friends which I could see on a regular basis. Everything I had been working towards in school was collapsing around itself. The things I valued most in myself were my intelligence. And it was around this time I realized just how stupid I truly am. The best way I can think to put it is that I was stuck and alone, in a place that I had no desire to be with not a glimpse of any sunlight in the foreseeable future.
This is where I was during the time when I first began to play Stardew Valley: A peaceful little game about escaping from the misery of being in a place with no hope. Simply put, Stardew Valley is a game that starts with you working at Wal Mart before moving out to the country and starting your own farm in a quaint little town.
I can recall only one instance of being in such a state of suffering and during that time, it was music and God that had a hand in saving me from whatever darkness I was in.
But many years had passed between now and then. It felt as if I was trapped deep down in the ocean, where no melodies could soothe me. And by this time I had taken leave of faith. I could not hear the music, and God, if He is there, could not reach me either.
The first thing that happens in the game is a sweet little scene of your Grandfather giving you an envelope and making you promise not to open it until you are at your breaking point in the modern world. Years later, you’re sitting at your cubicle ready to collapse and you finally tear open that envelope, revealing the deed to your Grandfather’s farmland.
The place has fallen into significant disrepair and it’s up to you to get it all fixed. Along the way you get to know the small populace of the town and learn about the struggles they’re facing.
There’s a struggling artist trying to make a living off her works, a war veteran struggling with PTSD, a homeless man forced to dig in other people’s trash for food. And dozens of other people around town, each of them having their own struggles. Each of them needs help in some way or another and with you being the new guy in town it puts you in the perfect place to give them a helping hand.
I myself have always received a particular, sense of purpose let’s call it, whenever other people’s problems present themselves to me. I try to help when I think I can, and even sometimes when I think I cannot.
Part of the reason I was in such a bad headspace before playing Stardew Valley was because I had found a person who very clearly needed some help, and whom I was not fit, for some reason or another, to offer that help to.
I had not ever encountered this before and I did not handle it well. The leap my brain makes when I cannot help someone seems to be that I cannot help anyone, and that I add nothing but more issues.
What spoke to me in this game was the importance you have in the small little town you start to live in. There are countless things that happen over the course of the game which require your direct hand in making sure they go well.
The governor comes to visit and it’s your job to prepare the best stew possible to make sure your town comes across as best possible. The Wal Mart-type company you left at the beginning is trying to dip its greedy hands into everyone’s business and take over as much as possible of the town and it’s your job to revitalize the town’s spirit to resist that greed. There’s a stray dog who comes up to you one morning and suddenly you’ve got a best friend to keep you company during your adventures. There’s a mine full of monsters on the outskirts of town and only you can clear it out to make things safe again.
This is all resting on your shoulders and it is a lot to handle. But the game doesn’t expect you to get all of these things done in just a short time. You do what you can during the day, go to bed at night, and then wake up the next day to see what you can do next.
That sense of calm in the game is what was integral to the lessons I learned from it. From this game, I learned that sometimes, it’s alright to just sit back, take a deep breath, and let things be. The world won’t fall apart if I decide “It’s late, and I need to sleep.”
In a time of my life which was punctuated by countless fits of despair brought on by all the things that I had to do, and the feeling that, if I slipped up once it would all fall apart, this was perhaps the most valuable thing I could have learned.
On the other-hand, if none of that sounds interesting, you can just ignore it all and go about your own business.
This is a subtle point but an important one. You are not punished by the game for simply handling your own affairs and leaving everyone else to their own business. You do not have to take the weight of the world on your own shoulders and maintain everyone else’s well-being.
This seems applicable in real life to me, though I am not sure I could ever do this. It seems callous and selfish to me. Foolishly, when I feel a connection with people, I want to see them do well and I suffer when they suffer.
I could be better about this and I could acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, people will be fine if I am not the one holding them up.
I make the foolish mistake of assuming that, if I take care of everyone, everyone will take care of me in return.
“Take care of yourself.” I have heard this from several people who have loved me but I’ve never been able to do it very well. And I cannot say that I have gotten any better about this even after learning this from Stardew Valley.
The lesson I learned from the issues I faced prior to playing Stardew Valley is this. Some things, and some people, cannot be helped. No matter how hard you try.
The lesson I learned from Stardew Valley is, the things and people that CAN be helped do not all have to be fixed immediately. Healing can take time.
My own healing was the effect Stardew Valley had.
The best part of all is, at the end of the game, your Grandfather’s spirit comes to visit you and assures you that you’ve done quite well in the time after his passing and no matter what, he’ll always love you.
My own Granddad is the one who I hold the highest regard for, and the one who I think of most whenever I fail or hit a snag. In my happiest moments I wonder if I could possibly live up to his example, in my saddest moments I fear that my credit with him has run out, and I wonder if I could ever face him knowing the breadth of my own failings. His being gone only makes these insecurities more crippling because I can never have these answers from the man himself.
In my clearer moments, I doubt Granddad could ever have any inkling of anything resembling disappointment or disdain for me. It is unfortunate that my clear moments are few and far between. My confused and foggy moments happen significantly more often.
Confused and foggy moments can be difficult to navigate alone and I certainly felt alone during this time. It was Stardew Valley that was able to shine a light through that fog and guide me out of the fog and into clearer air.