Monday, July 4, 2016

Stardew Valley - 10/20 hours

The really interesting thing about Stardew Valley is that it is a game about work. And not just ordinary work, either, but the sort of grueling, back-breaking work that is increasingly rare in our society. The main character gets up with the sun and then immediately starts working on a series of time-consuming, physically demanding chores. If you asked me a week ago, I'd have said it was a romantic vision of a simpler life.

But that was before I had to move into a new apartment. That was three-and-a-half days where I spent every waking hour lifting heavy things and then setting them back down again. It was an ordeal. So much so that I actually looked forward to going to my job, because it was less work (and then wound up cursing my monkey's paw when those two nights proved to be my busiest in years).

I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get back into Stardew Valley. That I would resent its portrayal of work. "Bah!" I might say. "A fatigue meter is easy. It resets at the beginning of each day. Where are bruises? The lingering stiffness? The almost obscene longing for a hot shower and cool bed? This is a ridiculous fantasy."

Yet, once I got back into it, I didn't have much of a problem at all. It turns out that I like watching work that's been shorn of all its carnal particulars. Even having so recently experienced the reality, the fantasy is still appealing. Without having to worry about aches and pains or the possibility of long-term injury, I'm free to focus on the transformative nature of work. The world changes according to my vision, and I don't have to worry about the ways it will change me.

It's tempting to think of abstraction in games as a necessary evil. A game does not have all the texture and nuance of the real world because a fine simulation requires progressively more computational power.  Yet it's the abstraction that makes it a game. I wouldn't want to play Stardew Valley on a holodeck, any more than I'd want to play a FPS where I could actually die. By removing the rough edges of the real world, the game allows me to explore the broad shape of a different life. If the simulation is too advanced, then the game simply becomes my life.

And while there's a lot to be said for the autonomy and security of your Starview Valley character's life, not to mention the connection to nature and ability to watch things grow and take shape according to your design, I wouldn't really want to live like that. My body couldn't take it.

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