Why Stardew Valley Is The Perfect Game For A Recession
In the game Stardew Valley, you are X, a disaffected employee of some nameless corporation. One day, you receive the news:  Your grandfather has died and left you a small farm. This farm is located in the idyllic seaside town of Stardew Valley.

The charming town by the sea
Instead of doing the sensible thing, which is to sell the land to a property developer to build condos, you decide to follow in his footsteps to become a farmer. You hop on the first bus out of town and arrive at your new home—a decrepit farm overrun with weeds. You have no capital and no experience, but damned if that’s gonna stop you from making grandpa proud.

So you get to it. Every day at sunrise, you wake up, plough the earth, plant some seeds, and water them. As you wait for the crops to grow, you catch some fish to sell and mine a few metals so you can craft automatic sprinklers and better tools. These tools make you more efficient. They allow you to plant more seeds, make more money, buy better fertiliser, rear more livestock, until voila!—50 hours has passed and you suddenly find yourself the CEO of Cargill.

How you begin...
Fields of highly-profitable blueberries stretch as far as your eye can see, watered daily by a vast network of sprinklers. Every available space is utilised by barns, beehives, oil presses, casks, and kegs that increase the value of your raw agricultural products by turning them into processed goods. Truffles are pressed into luxurious Truffle oil, while rooms full of kegs ferment your wheat harvest into six-packs of lager. To maximise revenue, your fruits are segregated by quality; ‘Gold quality’ melons are exported fresh because customers will pay top dollar, while their lower-quality cousins are made into jams or pickles. One dollar is turned into four, then forty, then four hundred, as you soon become a titan of industry; a multi-millionaire with holdings which exceed the GDP of Stardew Valley itself. 

...and how it ends.
Your lawyers suggest a merger with Monsanto, but what’s the point? You already have more money than things to spend it on. It’s not about the house you’ve renovated three times, or making the Stardew Forbes list (yet again). The point is … you don’t know actually, but it sure feels good to gaze upon the row upon row of sprinklers and casks all working smoothly. 

This is what Jeff Bezos must feel when he looks at an Amazon warehouse. This might be also why billionaires continue to accumulate wealth long after they’ve run out of ways to spend that money. 

Excel spreadsheet on the profits of various products
Okay, I was joking about the merger with Monsanto, but the rest is all true. 

Stardew Valley is perhaps the most ridiculous game ever created. It’s like Animal Crossing meets Adam Smith. The goal of Stardew Valley is production. The reward is more productivity. Crops can be sold for money, but there’s very little to do with your cash. You can either spend it on home decor (like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club), or more likely, use it to acquire new means of production. (Options include: Hay Silos, Deluxe Barns, Automatic Milking Machines, Fish Ponds, etc)

Sauron is not threatening to invade Stardew Valley, and there are no Nazis to kill.  Accumulation is the ultimate goal. When you deliver five gold melons to the magical forest spirits of Stardew Valley (the Juminos), they reward you with a Greenhouse which allows you to produce more melons, all year-round.

Of course, there are other goals beyond production. Stardew Valley has a number of townsfolk you can befriend. Some are even eligible for marriage once you get to know them. However, the means by which you endear yourself to these NPCs is hilariously simple. Basically, everyone will like you if you give them gifts. Some of them like diamonds, while others enjoy wine or turnips. However, no one will like you for your personality. Your partner will not even move in with you unless you spend a quarter of a million renovating your house. 

Excel spreadsheet on how to win the love of various townsfolk
Needless to say, they will not contribute a single cent.

All in all, it’s a very bleak portrait of humanity. Some critics have called the game ‘escapism’, but that’s obviously wrong. What exactly are you escaping from, or escaping into?  If the object of the game is to role-play as a farmer free from the pressures of a big city career, then the game has surely failed. To progress in Stardew Valley, one must replicate the same processes that distinguish you as a good employee: long hours, task efficiency, time management, patient planning, and so on.

The people here are absolutely brutal
So why have I invested hundreds of hours into this game, at the expense of my own health? The answer is because Stardew Valley offers an idealised version of work where patience is always rewarded with progress. If you plant more blueberries, and take the care to water them and keep away the crows, the harvest will always yield a profit. If you feed your cows daily, they will come to love you and produce better milk, which can turn a higher profit. 

Beneath its cutesy graphics is a utopia, but not the kind where everyone is happy because they have enough to eat or drink. Instead, it is a managerial utopia where the economics always works, the prices never crash, and one always excels by the meritocratic principle. Over time, through the sweat of one’s brow, you will even own the means of production thanks to so many barns and chicken coops.

As such, it is the perfect game to play in this time of economic uncertainty. Singapore is about to enter its worst recession this year. Unemployment is at an all-time high. In the years to come, only god knows how wages and prices will behave. In such circumstances, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a community where hard work is justly rewarded and where it’s possible to climb up the socioeconomic ladder, if only you would toil just a little harder in that melon patch? 

Stardew Valley is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch and the App Store. If you looking for a less satisfying second job, write to us at community@ricemedia.co.

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