Last night was the first time I really got to sit down and have an uninterrupted session with Stardew Valley, and while I knew, previously, that it was a compelling game, I forgot how addictive this particular style of farm-based life-simulator can be.
Your time playing is broken up into "days," where you wake with the sun, tend to your farm's necessary chores, and then spend a couple of in-game hours exploring the mine, fishing in the lake, river, or ocean, or befriending the townspeople. Then you go to bed, the game saves, and you do it all over again.
The main thing this does is establish Stardew Valley's setting and mood. You are living in an uncomplicated place and your life is governed by the cycles of nature. Pretty obvious stuff. However, the other thing this does is break your time with the game into easily digestible chunks. You may have grandiose long-term plans, like buying a ton of fruit trees to establish your own high-end winery, but your main focus is always 20-30 minutes away. Will I be able to swing by my friend's house after watering the crops? Do I have enough stamina to chop down the wood for my house expansion? Is there enough time to go one level deeper into the mines?
And sometimes you're wrong about your available resources, and you miss the window where a shop is open, or use up all your stamina and have to be carried home by the town doctor, but it's the knowledge of those limitations that makes each day into its own time- and resource-management puzzle. And because each day is its own self-contained challenge, there's always the temptation to play just one more.
Which is how I immediately lost 5 hours to this game just as soon as my schedule freed up enough to be able to play it at all. This very nearly wound up being a 16- (or perhaps even 18-) hour post and the only difference would have been that I wrote it after waking up instead of before going to bed.
That's a quality I really love in a video game. Which is weird, because it essentially means that I'm never satisfied by what I've accomplished in Stardew Valley. I'm always driven to push things farther, to bring more land under cultivation, to earn more money, to invest in better tools and larger facilities, all so I can make even more money. I worry that I may go off the deep end and just transform myself into a bitter agricultural hermit, surrounded by the money he worked so hard to earn, but cut off from anything (or anyone) worthwhile to spend it on.
Actually, my big worry is that I am fifteen hours into the game and only halfway through the first year. If past experience is anything to go by, I should still be in autumn by the time hour 20 comes around. I'm kind of dreading that, because I'm absolutely certain that I will have a ton of unfinished business by then. But that's in the future. For now, I just have to take it one day at a time.