Zen and the Art of Farmstead Maintenance

For as long as I can recall (which is any time after 13 years old), I have been told to meditate as a way of coping with anxiety. Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, Buddhist monks, and even random hippies have told me that a fantastic way of coping with anxiety and centering yourself is through meditation. I have tried it.

It sucks shit.

The concept of meditation is simple…in theory. Clear your mind of all thoughts and worries and simply exist in an empty space for a bit. In execution, well, not so much. “Clearing your mind of thoughts and worries”, when you have anxiety, is about as easy as clearing a minefield with a bullwhip made of snakes. If I could just turn it off for an hour I wouldn’t have three quarters of the problems I have. They have said that practice makes perfect and you will get better at it. I’ve tried that and it just ends up resulting in hour-long spiraling maelstroms of doubt and fear as my legs turn to jelly and my spinal fusion makes sounds like rivets popping out of the hull of an old WWII submarine. That being said, I haven’t abandoned the idea of meditation. In fact, I still practice it regularly but not in the traditional sense. And it seems I’m not alone in this particular practice, either. For me, video games help me meditate.

It’s an odd thing to consider but I’m not alone. I do actually talk to other people and a general consensus of people I’ve interfaced with find satisfaction, peace, and relaxation in menial, repetitive tasks within video games. From gathering materials, killing monsters, or even punching trees, there is something cathartic about it. Maybe it is a busy-work that occupies the lower functions of the brain that allow the rest of it to wander. Maybe it’s just a white noise that drowns out thoughts. Either way, it seems like a thing.

I’m sure, by now, you’re wondering what this has to do with the title of this post. I’m sure some of you see it coming; others might not. Recently I was gifted a game that has provided the perfect platform for meditation:

Stardew Valley.

A recent re-imagination of the old Harvest Moon series, you take on the role of a man who, after inheriting¬† his dying grandfather’s farm, leaves his corporate job and moves to the country to indulge in his green thumb.¬† On the surface it’s a simple, even tedious, game: grow crops, forage for materials, work a mine, fight monsters, and develop relationships with the townspeople; all as you try to earn enough money and experience to make your life easier. Digging deeper, however, it is the most peaceful and meditative game I have ever come across. The fact that it’s a lot of fun is almost a bonus on top of the calming qualities this game instills in me. I let out the biggest contented sighs I have in YEARS while playing this game. Why?

For one…you can’t die. Even if you lose all your health, you will be dragged back to your house by the local doctor / carpenter and wake up alive. Sure, you’ll lose money. You’ll lose some stuff. If you pass out in the mines, you’ll even lose progress. But you can’t die. There is also no real NEGATIVE effects to not doing something. If you pick up a quest (some of them are on a timed basis) and you don’t get it done, the person doesn’t hate you for it. If you don’t plant your crops in time, it doesn’t REALLY matter; you can earn enough money just by hitting trees and rocks to survive. You don’t NEED to eat or drink, it’s simply there to let you work longer if you want. You get plenty of chances to do things and, even if you screw them up, it’s not a huge deal. A whole season is about 5 hours of semi-casual game play and you can just try again next season. Or not!

This worry-free environment with limited stress, boundless opportunities, extremely few consequences, and simplistic goals means you’re not only free to indulge in the tedium and let your mind wander…it’s part of the game. Water your crops and think. Collect wood and think. Go fishing and think. It is a game perfect for in situ meditation. You can’t do wrong, you have no obligations, you have no immediate survival needs…you are free. I spent the entire month of winter fishing. 28 in-game days…fishing. Fishing and thinking. Fishing and listening to podcasts. Fishing and watching documentaries. Sure, I missed out on a few things but it doesn’t matter. I’ll just try again next season. It’s not far away.

For me, Stardew Valley is a game that’s entertaining in all the right ways. It has a soundtrack that is varied and lively but unobtrusive. It has enough game-play mechanics to keep me engaged but not demand undivided attention. It has a story-line that is solid (if a bit cliche) but doesn’t require me to explore it if I don’t feel like it. I don’t have to do anything for the sake of progression. I can engage in combat when I want, not when the game wants me to fight. I can name my farm, pet, and farm animals.

I can meditate.

_______________________________________________________________________________

All this being said, I DO have some tips if you decide to play it and want to make things easy. I’ve put in 34 hours so I have a decent grasp of things and what you should and shouldn’t do. So if you want to know, here we go. And yes, I wear a sailor’s cap. I WON THAT FISHING CONTEST AND I’M FUCKIN’ PROUD.

  • When you first start the game, hit escape and go to the little controller.options
    Under General, turn this on:toolhit
    This makes the game highlight the ground your tool will interact with. When energy conservation is critical, this helps a lot from blindly swinging a hoe at a rock over and over again.
  • When you first get to your farm, don’t clear anything but logs and rocks. You can cut grass that looks like this:grass1
    But leave these alone:grass2
    Reasoning why is next.
  • The first building you build shouldn’t be a chicken coop, as the game suggests. Build a silo first. The chicken coop is expensive, both in terms of raw materials and money. The chickens themselves are expensive in upfront costs (800 monies per chicken) but what ends up getting you is the feeding costs. Chickens can free-roam about your farm eating that second kind of grass but…after the summer…you kinda run out. You then have to start feeding them hay. Hay costs money (50 a piece). Eggs from the chickens sell for 25 a piece. So you lose money until you can turn them into mayonnaise. If you build a SILO first, every time you cut that second type of grass with a scythe, you HARVEST hay and it’s automatically put into the silo. Not only that but a silo is pretty damn cheap in terms of both materials and money. So only clear out that grass when you have the silo. Then go for chickens.
  • Foraging is your friend when you start out. Each season has a few things that you can gather to supplement income, like so:

    forage
    forage2
    They will come in a variety of qualities (denoted by a silver/gold star).forage3

    Those you want to sell. The non-star quality ones you want to keep because a) a towns-person will eventually want one and b) as you level foraging you can CRAFT THEM INTO SEASONAL SEED PACKS. When you plant them it’s RANDOM but when you don’t have much cash it’s an easy way to get money from the ground.

  • If you till an area that you don’t want tilled, hit it with a pickaxe to revert it back to normal ground.
  • Fishing is hard at first but the more you do it the better you get at it. This should be common sense but it’s not always apparent in games. As you upgrade your fishing rod, your fishing bar will become bigger and your fishing skill will make fish easier to reel in.fishing
    Once you get the Carbon Fiber rod, you can apply bait to reduce bite time. Once you get the Iridium rod, you can slap on lures, too. Also, how FAR you cast will determine what kind of fish you get (close to shore means less rare fish) and the quality of the fish you get (further out means a higher chance at a gold quality fish) so it’s a trade-off between energy use and income. If you think you can catch the fish, Kobe that shit into the atmosphere. You can also use the WASD keys (once you’ve started casting) to slightly move where your bobber lands. This is helpful for when you cast into bubbling pools (which act like bait and speed up bite time).
  • Don’t neglect the community center. You can pay money to have it turn into a Joja Warehouse but then everything you want to upgrade costs cold, hard currency. It’s easier when you’re just starting to unlock things the old fashioned way because you won’t be making decent amounts of money for awhile.
  • The little dancing worms mean good things. These are the worms/sprouts:worms
    If you till it, something will pop out. Clay, ores, gems, books for the library, artifacts. It’s easiest to do in the Winter because they’re all over (one of the foraged items for Winter can only come from them) and they’re also much easier to see.
  • Clay comes from tilling. Just till the crap out of the ground until you get enough for a silo. You can’t farm it, trust me.
  • Linus is the best and I will fight you if you say otherwise.