Stardew Valley was a game I played obsessively last trimester: it keep me up till 4am, distracted me from assignments and ate my time. So, obviously, I extremely enjoyed this game. In spite of this, I had some major issues with it that only truly became apparent through prolonged play through and during the later stages of the game.
As such, I was interested to see what two (very different articles) would say about the game. In the blog post I will be examining and comparing an article by Australian writer Alayna Cole titled “Exchanging Marriage Plows: Gender & Sexuality in Stardew Valley” and a review written for IGN by Kallie Plagge.
Cole’s article discusses how Stardew Valley deals with representation and diversity of gender and sexuality. She acknowledges that although Stardew Valley has relatively progressively representation (by allowing the player to wear any clothes and marry any of the single NPCs regardless of gender) it is ultimately superficial. The player is able to woo any or all of the NPCs. As such, they are without preference or individuality – in terms of sexual, appearance or personality preferences. They lack their own identity and are instead ‘playersexual’. Cole (2016) notes that apart from the relationship that the player could create there are “no other romantic relationships in town that deviate from heteronormativity”. This combined with the notion that relationships are to be ‘leveled up’ leaves the whole social system feeling flat. Additionally, Cole questions why the game, which has an otherwise progressive character creator, still constrains the player to the binary genders of male and female.
Conversely, Plagge’s review gives an overview and all around description of the game play and story. Plagge does not go into much detail but does explain the core aspects of the game: covering the farming, mining, social system and events. She covers what an average play session would be and also discusses her own experiences with the game. In particular, Plagge discusses how the myriad of things a player can do, and choice to pick, stop the player from becoming bored in an otherwise very ‘grindy’ game. However, like Cole, Plagge (2016) feels that the social is underdeveloped.
Both Cole and Plagge agree that the simplification of social interaction to ‘gifts equals hearts’ is harmful as it reduces people to another collectable and is at odds with the depth displayed in the characters’ narrative and development.
In comparing these two articles it is apparent that the review covers a lot of aspects of the game with little depth while Cole’s analysis explores one aspect deeply. Both of these are useful for different reasons. The review helps readers gain a better understanding of what the game is and what it is about. It does not, however, examine or explore any aspect of the game in depth. This is were analysis is useful. Cole’s article looks critical and deeply at the gender and sexuality representation within Stardew Valley. The review did not mention this at all, as it requires a deeper reading and some explanation. As such, the analysis is able to really get into the fine detail and demonstrate how the game could have been changed, or improved. I find this particularly useful as I can see how to apply it to my own work. As Cole (2016) states:
“By thinking critically about representation, we are able to see what ‘better’ looks like and continue to strive for it.”
Personally, I found Cole’s analysis more useful in terms of game design than the IGN review. Cole brings up an issue and gives possible alternatives such as: not forcing the player to pick a gender but rather the pronouns or just using gender neutral pronouns throughout. This was particularly interesting for me as I have being toying with a game idea with a character selector (and thinking about representation) but had not considered these options before this article.
Although not as immediately obvious, Plagge’s review gives good insight into how a typical player interacts with the game and demonstrates how variety and choice help to stop the game becoming stale. However, this review is much more consumer facing. As such, it is more concerned with informing the readers about the game and encouraging them to make a purchase.
While both of the articles were vastly different, they both offered unique insights into Stardew Valley that are useful in their own ways.
Cole, A. (2016). Exchanging Marriage Plows: Gender & Sexuality in Stardew Valley. Retrieved from
Plagge, K. (2016). Stardew Valley Review. Retrieved from