If you had asked me before December of 2019 if I would ever find any joy in games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, I probably would have told you, “No.” And I likely would have said it in a tone that would have implied you were ridiculous for asking.
Prior to the release of games like these, I was playing World of Warcraft, and there were a few dailies in Mists of Pandaria that involved tending to a farm. I remember seeing other players, whether it was in chat or on the forums, drawing comparisons to Farmville, and, perhaps most baffling of all, they were all essentially disparaging those dailies because of those comparisons.
Not having experience with games like that at the time, I simply assumed the people who disparaged those dailies were right and avoided them. This had the very unfortunate consequence of also avoiding any and all similar games. To my mind, if a seemingly large portion of the WoW player base disliked the dailies and one game in that category, I, who was also a WoW player at the time, would dislike it, too.
This was, unfortunately, also at a time where I didn’t quite realize that the vocal portions of certain groups might not necessarily be the majority, but I digress.
When Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing came around, I rolled my eyes at them and assumed I wouldn’t enjoy them very much. In fact, I kind of thought I’d hate them. And yet, the more gaming friends I made, the more I saw them praising those cozy games. And the more I saw of that, the more I started questioning what drew people to them.
I eventually wound up trying Stardew Valley in December of 2019 after one of my Twitch mods, E, gifted me a copy, and I decided to stream my playthrough of it. I wasn’t expecting too much from it, though. I think in the back of my mind, I was expecting to not get too invested in it. Still, I knew I could always stop playing if I decided I really didn’t like it, but I had to give it the fairest chance I possibly could first.
As I went through the opening cutscenes, I’ll admit I could appreciate the storyline we had been presented with. My character’s grandfather had passed on, leaving them his farm in Stardew Valley, and they made the abrupt decision to leave their (presumably soulless) job at Joja Corp. to tend to the farm. In fact, it was even a bit relatable to me.
Despite that, I was still so sure I wasn’t going to like this game.
That certainty lasted up until the moment I harvested a small patch of parsnips.
Who honestly would have thought successfully harvesting a plot of 16-bit parsnips in front of a home that I now owned because game mechanics said I did would have been so satisfying? Certainly not me! But there I was with 15 parsnips that I had grown in my inventory and I was so incredibly proud of the fact that I had grown them at all.
I felt like I had accomplished something and that honestly meant the world to me.
I think part of that came from how my real life was unfolding at that point in time. I was on a job hunt. My income was coming from an assortment of mediocre freelance endeavors, and I had recently moved to a new location where I knew no one outside of my family in the area. Add current events to that, and I was left with a situation that made me feel as though I didn’t have much control.
But in Stardew Valley? I had a space of my own that I could customize however I wanted. There were friendly people in town for me to talk to, and all of them were a short walk away from my farmhouse. There were people I could be romantically involved with if I so chose (and I did).
Most importantly, though, my virtual farm made me feel like I had a sense of purpose. I’d grow and harvest crops. Those crops were presumably sold in town. I eventually expanded the farm to acquire animals. I carved out a virtual life for myself over the course of a few months and having all of that made me happier than I think I had been in a really long time.
My personal success in Stardew Valley made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I might enjoy other cozy games, too.
I’ve been experimenting ever since, although finding the time and financial resources to do so is a bit tricky. I’ve discovered I’m a fan of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but no so much New Leaf. I adore the cuteness that is Cozy Grove. I’m still unsure how I feel about My Time at Portia, but the storyline’s intriguing enough to keep me entertained. (If you want to catch me streaming it on Sunday afternoons, be sure to follow me on Twitch! ) I’m even really excited for Palia, which seems as though it’s going to be a cozy MMO. And I’m excitedly looking forward to what others might come out down the line.
If you had asked me years ago if I ever thought I’d be excited by more cozy games being my future, the answer would have absolutely been no.
But now? Now, I’m looking forward to trying more and I couldn’t be happier.