It’s like having one last short to get your head straight before you leave the bar, or necking an espresso to bring you down as you head up for bed. It makes no sense, and it makes you feel horrible. Stardew Valley is a PC game that repeatedly needles you about how detached you are from the natural world and how soul-voiding it is to live your life through a screen. “There will come a time when you feel crushed by modern life and your bright spirit will fade before a growing emptiness,” says your bed-ridden grandad, stretching his hand towards you with a serious-looking envelope. Cut to: your character, skivvying miserably at a computer for the oppressively cheerful Joja corporation. Cut to: my heart withering in ashy despair as I realise I too am hunched over a screen.
But the answer to your wage-slave woes are right there in that letter from gramps. In it, your grandfather gives you his old farm in Stardew Valley. Of course, it needs a bit of work. Actually, it needs a lot of work. You are deposited in an overgrown shrubbery littered with rocks and bits of wood, and given a handful of tools to get started with. Chop down trees, break rocks, till soil, repeat. The cheery 8-bit look with searingly bright colours cannot hide the fact that you’ve been dropped into a world of chores. Chop, break, till. Forage as you go, selling your finds for in-game cash. Buy seeds. Chop, break, till. Plant your seeds and water them. Chop, break, till, water.