(warning: this article contains some spoilers for Stardew Valley)
There are plenty of farming sims on the market, from classic hits like Harvest Moon to newer games like Coral Island. Yet, none of these games have quite the same die-hard fan base as the smash hit indie game Stardew Valley. With recent talk of a new game from developer ConcernedApe, many players are revisiting their farms in anticipation. On the surface level, Stardew Valley may look like any other farming simulator as the player tends to their crops and animals, reaping the benefits and building up their farm. However, the game’s non-playable characters and storyline are full of relatable real-world problems and sociological insight, completely setting this game aside from all the rest.
At the beginning of the game, the player is seen working a mundane office job at Joja Mart, which is far too reminiscent of the Walmart we all know in real life, from its blue and white logo to the giant Joja supermarket to the East of town. The player then inherits their grandpa’s overrun farm, moving to Pelican town to escape corporate life. As part of the main plot, Joja Mart is planning to take over the town’s community center, which lies in shambles when the game begins. Stardew Valley is ripe with subtle Marxist symbolism as the player fights to defeat Joja Mart’s evil CEO Morris, who regularly bullies the small local business.
As the player gets to know the characters in Pelican Town, they may notice that they don’t have the picture-perfect, nuclear families that many players may be used to seeing in a video game. For example, Alex lives with his grandparents, and after becoming friends with this character, it’s revealed that his living situation is likely due to his parents’ abuse. There are also characters in the game like Shane and Pam, who struggle with alcoholism and depression. Unsurprisingly, Shane spends his days working at Joja Mart, clad in their blue and white uniform and doomed to drink Joja Cola, likely contributing to his poor mental health. However, the player has opportunities to help out these characters along the way. When the player unlocks access to the bus, for instance, Pam excitedly returns to her job as a bus driver (although she can still be seen drinking in the saloon most nights). They can also befriend Shane and aid him in his recovery.
Unlike many farming sims, Stardew Valley also has an end goal. To beat the game, the player must start by filling the town’s Community Center with various items until it’s completely built. Once the Community Center has been completed, Joja Mart is defeated and its evil CEO is never to be seen again, a symbol that community and small businesses will conquer over corporations in the end.