I love action-adventure games. I can’t get enough of intense firefights broken up by stealth missions, set in worlds where failure leads to dire consequences. But sometimes, when it feels like I’m up to my neck with the challenges and responsibilities that real life brings, I just need a break from the pressure. A world that I can escape to in order to mentally reset and find calm again.
For those who can relate and are looking for an escape from reality, if only for a little while, there exists a pixelated farming paradise that I use to get away from it all. That game is Stardew Valley.
Developed by ConcernedApe and released in 2016, Stardew Valley has become a safe haven for many gamers seeking respite from the chaos of everyday life – it’s basically a mainstay on every “top 10 relaxing video games” list. The retro-inspired graphics and soothing soundtrack set the stage for a virtual escape to a simpler, more wholesome existence.
It begins with a simple premise: tired of the corporate grind, your character inherits a run-down farm in Stardew Valley. What follows is a journey of rejuvenation and self-discovery as players till the soil, plant crops, raise animals, and form relationships with the charming valley community.
At the heart of Stardew Valley’s appeal is its emphasis on routine and the slow, satisfying rhythm of farm life. Seasons change, crops grow, and friendships blossom over time, providing a sense of accomplishment and progression without the stress of impending deadlines or looming threats. While operating a successful farm does add an element of challenge for those who seek it, and combat awaits in the depths of the mines, it is completely up to the player how much they wish to engage with those elements. Those who shun the challenge and instead seek a peaceful escape will surely find it here.
Players seeking a sense of connection to those around them can form relationships with Stardew Valley’s diverse cast of characters, each with their own story and personality. Relationships grow organically over time by engaging in conversations, sharing gifts, and participating in local festivals. These interactions make the digital community feel just as real and supportive as any in the physical world and are an integral part of the overall experience.
Players can fill their days with the activities that they want to complete and avoid those that they don’t want to take part in, creating an experience that is their own. The day-night cycle allows players to structure their activities organically, whether it’s exploring the mines for resources, participating in community events at set times, or fishing by moonlight before turning in for the night.
Few other games come close to the experience that Stardew Valley gives. It truly is a tranquil, virtual safe space that I can retreat to at the end of a hectic day, an escape from the pressures of modern life (and modern video games). The absence of forced combat or aggressive time constraints means I can explore the valley at my own pace and engage with it in line with however I happen to be feeling at that moment in time. And no matter how I feel when I first fire Stardew Valley up, I always feel like I’ve mentally reset come the end of a session.
I go through periods of playing Stardew Valley every spare moment I have, or just dropping by whenever the real world starts to become too overwhelming. One thing remains true every time I return to the valley, though: I feel at home. I feel at ease. I feel like I belong.