In recent weeks I’ve experienced Bell Let’s Talk day, a day about ending the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as a talk from the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization dedicated to providing services for those battling mental health. We all, on some level, battle against our own mental health. Whether your battling anxiety, depression or worse, we’re all affected.
As we traverse through life trying to make the best out of everything, we often find ourselves turning to media and entertainment to better cope with our mental health; video games included. So this got me thinking about my story, my situation, my mental health, and the games I turn to the most when I’m battling anxiety, stress, and depression.
When it comes to my mental health, I have to battle with my anxiety every single day. In fact, I would actually mark it up to every single moment of my life. When I try to explain what it’s like to have anxiety to someone, I often relate it to a guitar string. When I feel relaxed and “normal”, the guitar string remains steady and silent. But when I’m battling through anxiety, my guitar string is constantly vibrating to the point where no part of me can relax.
The vibrations aren’t just annoying, they can be detrimental. I’ve avoided hanging with my friends, even bailing on them at the last minute because of my anxiety. I have missed days of work and in some cases, frozen where I should have acted at my job because of my anxiety. There are moments when I should be happy and I recognize these happy moments only to feel terror and dread due to anxiety. While moments of relaxation are few and far between for me, there are a couple of constants that provides me with the deep-mental-breath I need every once in a while. One is hugging my cat very tightly, even to her disliking. Another being the big spoon with my fiancée when we’re just watching Netflix. And finally, when I’m playing Stardew Valley to get the mental break I so crave.
Stardew Valley was created by the legendary Eric “Concerned Ape” Barone. I say legendary because the story of how he single-handedly developed Stardew Valley including the programming, art, music, and writing, has become famous in the gaming community. It’s a top-down, 2D, pixelated, farming simulator that puts the player in charge of taking care of their grandfather’s farm after he passes away. While taking care of a farms sounds like hard (and smelly) work, it becomes a relaxing orchestra of busy-work, calming music, virtual connections and pleasant artwork that provides players with an experience they so crave.
The game begins in the city, with the main character working an office job he or she so desperately wants to get away from. Upon receiving a letter detailing the passing their passing grandparent, they find out they’ve inherited their family’s farm. This is really the essence of the game, being able to step away from your complicated city life into a much simpler small town life and making connections with plants and animals, and even the NPC’s around Pelican Town.
Bottom line, Stardew Valley is a very relaxing game. Here are some of the factors that will work to help relax you through your playthrough.
The first thing you’ll notice is the artwork. It’s colorful, charming, pixelated, and somewhat derivative of Super Nintendo games such as The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. Nostalgia aside, it’s use of bright and earthy colours will make you feel closer to the natural environments of Stardew Valley. There’s trees, bushes, rivers, mountains, beaches, and caves that bring you out of a world surrounded by grey and colourless buildings and into a world full of color and life. In fact, the art and colours relax me so much, I will often set the artwork of Stardew Valley as my wallpaper on my phone, computer and even Xbox.
Stardew Valley has a great soundtrack. It’s use of string and flute melodies bring you back to simpler times and immerse you into the beautiful world of Stardew Valley. In fact, you can find all the tracks to Stardew Valley on Spotify and I highly recommend tuning in during times of stress or needed concentration. Whether you studying, working, or writing a wicked cool article on how relaxing Stardew Valley is, it’s just perfect.
While the social systems of Stardew Valley are rather shallow, that doesn’t mean each character isn’t an important part of the Stardew Valley experience. The good people of Pelican Town all have their place in this world and each have their own stories. Whether it’s the homeless and anti-social Linus who just wants to be treated like everyone else, or Kent, a veteran who battles with PTSD every day, these characters provide something that not a lot of games have; connections. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill NPC’s, they’re complicated and in need of help, and as the player, you get to provide that help and build connections with the NPC’s. The true hero of the story!
While the gameplay can consist of chores such as milking cows, cutting the grass and water the plants, it’s all in an effort to build up your grandfather’s farm. But it’s much more than a farm, you’re literally building whatever life you want for yourself. I’ve seen players who have simply built themselves a hobby farm surrounding themselves with cute animals. If you’re like me, you’ve become a millionaire building a wine empire on ancient wine. I’m just about financially ready to start REALLY decking out my farm into something awesome. And even after hundreds of hours of gameplay, I still feel like I’m just starting my Stardew journey as I plan out how I want to design my farm.