The end of the world is probably going to be very slow. All the things we think are part of our civilization will betray us a little bit by a little bit, and after the end, people will still be hanging on in little communities, little enclaves of oblivious peace separated from the collapse of the rest of the world. When I consider the gentle farming simulator, inspired by Harvest Moon, I think about how it paints a world so beautifully with such a limited palette. I think about, as well, how the world is built so precisely from the perspective of SF/F that it quickly places the player into an intricate magic and tech infused landscape with a matter-of-fact presentation that becomes the backdrop to a game about community and peace.
In the beginning, the player works in a miserable call center, and there is a skeleton dead and dusty at a desk. Could it be some over-the-top Halloween decoration that no one bothered to put away or an actual dead body? Regardless, it paints a picture of this corporate life as a nightmare march to death, and all the people working this call center are not treated as human beings, living things. They are cogs. And the opportunity to escape comes from an inheritance that brings the player out into the hills and mountains and valleys to Stardew Valley, a tiny town where everyone knows everyone and a new way of life living off the land.
The world building gets stranger and stranger, with fairy-like creatures called Junimos, and ancient artifacts scattered about a mine that’s full of monsters. Dwarves even exist, but they are remnants of an alien race. And Grobnar also exists as some kind of spirit creature, deformed and always in shadow. The company that ruled the world is here, too, threatening to destroy everything the little community values
In this world, the weapon of liberation is making friends, working hard, respecting nature, and building up a farm that feeds the community. It’s a simple message that echoes deeply in large part because the semi-post-apocalyptic, magic and tech landscape’s isolationism inside the valley. And it is a better rendition of the kind of battle against a slow apocalypse that lesser games utilize to make bigger and louder guns. It is a bubble landscape, full of people who are trying to escape the horrors of the ultra-civilized world for a sense of community purpose that also deals with depression, alcoholism, ennui, and all the little disasters that accumulate to make a life. It’s a beautiful game, and in the dark winter months between semesters, I expect to be basking in its gentle light.