The indie hit farming sim with tons of sidequests and things to do actually has something to teach us: romance can be an option without being a be-all end-all.
Spoiler Warning: some spoilers abound if you have not yet accessed late-game content in Stardew Valley. If you’re a seasoned Pelican Town resident or aren’t interested in the game though, read on!
As I often have to preface with the random things that strike me: it sounds batshit crazy, but HEAR ME OUT.
I was reading this brilliant piece by Nada Chehade and as I often do, proceeded to have an epiphany in the comment section just like I did last week. Nada dives into how people, namely single women, are often threatened (usually by men) with this idea of dying alone.
Here’s the thing: there is often a great deal of subconscious fear made in this statement. Especially since single women tend to have their shit together later in life or when incapacitation hits.
But there’s more to it than that, and the following essay doesn’t center on the gendered aspects much. What I’m about to tell you will apply no matter your gender, sexual orientation, sexuality, you name it.
Even if you’ve never played Stardew Valley before, you’ll understand what’s going on here although you’ll get an extra dimension of appreciation out of this if you have played the game at least once.
The world of Stardew Valley is a huge one. You ultimately play at your own pace and marriage is encouraged, but not mandatory.
So if you’re unfamiliar with the pixelated world of Pelican Town and environs, you do all kinds of things in Stardew Valley. You have a farm that you can build out however you want, go fishing, fight monsters and find treasure in the mines, craft farm equipment and jewelry, and become involved with your community by befriending everyone.
There’s only so much time in a given day to do all these things, and there’s so many hidden Easter eggs and blips of bonus content in addition to what you’re aware that you’re working towards.
It’s one of those games where you can truly make it your own: focus on nothing but raising animals or growing tons of expensive crops to brew the most profitable wines, or spending all day in the Skull Cave mining iridium and finding rare items. Harvest parsnips, potatoes, blueberries, and other “utility” crops by the season, or go wild when you unlock the greenhouse then Ginger Island (plus Grandpa’s Shed and the dead garden east of Shearwater Bridge if you installed the Stardew Expanded mod).
You can absolutely fit in pursuing a spouse, giving polyamory a try by giving every marriageable NPC a bouquet, or skipping this facet of the game altogether if you want.
Love and marriage is an optional side quest, as you engage with this vast game world where you just about never run out of things to do and explore. Between randomly-generated quests like getting an aquamarine for Haley or 1,000 pieces of wood for Robin plus one-time quests like abetting Mayor Lewis in his fuckboy ways by returning his purple shorts to him, then reaching for the stars by amassing enough gold to get the Golden Clock or uncovering every hidden statue in the game?
You legit NEVER run out of things to do whether it’s at your own behest or helping your community. Pursuing your bachelor or bachelorette of choice can become another one of those goals, or you can skip it altogether and it doesn’t diminish your enjoyment of the game and all the other possibilities.
And that’s when it hit me — isn’t that also the case in real life?
We live in a vast world, one much bigger than the Ferngill Republic. Marriage is encouraged but you don’t actually need it to have a rich, fulfilling experience.
You can enjoy a vibrant social life, and vivacious sex life to boot, without being in a committed relationship unless you truly want one and are happy together.
I looked at how my dad’s second marriage is so blissful, and there were many takeaways I got from it. One of them being that if shit’s just too hard right now, you shouldn’t rule out late-game content in a manner of speaking. You can find love at any age.
I would love to have someone I can share my life with, but I’m simultaneously too much and not enough for most men. I built a goddamn amazing life by myself, too!
I only want a partner if he’s going to add to my life and provide an extra dimension to it like how you do in Stardew Valley. (Getting a kiss and an açaí bowl every morning with one click before my daily adventures would also rule.)
“But wait!” yells that hardcore Stardew completionist from the back row. “Where do you get that seventh Stardrop then if you don’t marry?!”
If you want me to get really into the granular aspects of the game’s mechanics as a hardcore completionist, then yes, you’d need to marry someone in order to get one of the Stardrops. But even then!!
You can just do things a little differently if you save up enough Void Essence to get the dark pendant from the Desert Trader, and give it to Krobus where he’ll become your platonic housemate.
He’ll give you a Stardrop to symbolize your friendship instead of romantic love, and you get pretty much the same things you get as a married couple: extra dialogue and scenes, he gets a tiny room in your house, and makes you Strange Buns some mornings just like the other characters make you food.
So even if you’re a die-hard completionist who wants to play the game that way? You STILL don’t need a romantic partner to dig every possible piece of content and Easter eggs out of the game. ConcernedApe seriously did an awesome job in later versions of the game where he made frequently “other-ed” groups of people feel seen, including ace/aro people with Krobus as an option to get that seventh Stardrop.
While I’m definitely not ace or aro, I’m childfree and he made me feel seen by giving players the option to get rid of their cribs and child beds in the house upgrade.
Now if only frogs from Stardew Expanded could go in the fishtank or hop around the house, we’d be set!
But if it just doesn’t happen for me in the near future, or at all, there’s still 10,000 other things to do.
I know that many lonely people don’t want to hear what they might construe as a tired cliché that we focus too much on what we don’t have in our lives instead of what we do have.
But…clichés have a foundation in truth, after all.
There IS a vast and beautiful world out there amid the suffering and ugliness. We can sometimes feel a complete lack of agency when it comes to sex and romance. After all, while saying the right things and plying someone you fancy with loved gifts twice a week might get them on your good side, it doesn’t guarantee you anything like it does in a video game.
And I get it, lacking agency sucks! The more autonomy you have in your life, the happier you are. But this is absolutely an area where you will lack control and it doesn’t work like it does in Stardew Valley. You can’t just MAKE someone like you, go on a date with you, or have sex with you. It doesn’t work that way. And if you’re an asshole who’s coerced someone into those things — well, wouldn’t you want someone who’s ecstatic to be with you instead of only doing so out of fear for their life, livelihood, or loved ones?
But life also isn’t this reductive binary where you MUST be miserable if you’re single, and that you’re only happy while single if you don’t want a relationship. That’s simply not the case.
Nope. You can choose to pursue love or let it pursue you, and still have 10,000 things to do in the meantime without losing your enjoyment of life.
I’ll be happy harvesting parsnips, making and selling maki rolls, and finding tons of rare monster loot if I never come home to a guy who’s waiting to ask how my day was and proffer me with pancakes. That’s just bonus content that would be nice to unlock.