Publisher: Chucklefish Games
Year Made: 2016
Platforms: PC, Mac OS, Linux
Content Areas: Social Studies, Math
Suggested Age Level: Elementary School, Middle School, High School
Play Length: Infinite
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Easy
For those unfamiliar with the medium of games Stardew Valley can come as a surprise. It has no real ‘great evil’ to defeat, no major storyline to uncover, no impending threat. It is a just a simple game about making one rustic little community a better place.
The major component of the game is tending the farm over the course of year after year. Each year, the game hums along with a seasonal rhythm, each season has 28 days during which specific crops can be grown and then sold. Determining the best crops for the best profit requires a bit of math and experimenting. Pumpkin seeds cost 100 gold and pumpkins have a sell price of 320 gold but with a thirteen day gestation time it is an investment. Meanwhile Bok Choy is cheap to buy and sell and only takes four days to come to harvest. Low volume high profit? High volume low profit? The choice is yours. Deciding what to plant, when, and how to reinvest the profits makes Stardew Valley an interactive story problem. Students could decide to invest heavily in one crop or diversify into raising animals, making artisan products, or fishing.
Farming is only part of the game and Stardew Valley’s community aspects make it an interesting approach to a social studies discussion on what community means. As your farm thrives, resources can be given to magical creatures that have taken over the run down community center of Pelican Town. A revived community center brings new life to the town. However the local Joja Mart at the edge of town has plans for a warehouse where the community center stands. This is the most conflict the game has to offer: shop and live local or choose the Joja Mart way?
Players can choose to shop at Joja Mart or at Pierre’s locally-owned shop at the center of town. Shopping at Pierre’s means higher prices but supporting a friend and a community member. Meanwhile shopping at Joja Mart means cheaper prices in the short term. Purchase community upgrades at Joja Mart and the warehouse takes over the community center, Pierre closes shop, and those cheap Joja Mart prices take on a steep increase. The Pelican Town versus Joja Mart conflict can be a launching off point for discussion on local versus corporate owned, community action, and the costs of goods and services beyond price.
Stardew Valley places players in a beautiful, yet struggling community that just needs a spark to reinvigorate Pelican Town. How and if that revitalization occurs is up to how the player chooses to engage with the community. Each citizen has their own dreams, and problems that can be discovered by developing friendships with them. These friendships open new dialogues and events and that enrich the gameplay experience. These dialogues can also provide gameplay advice that is hard to come by in the game instructions. This could perhaps be the only drawback to using Stardew Valley in the classroom - it does not clearly explain to the player all their options and abilities. This means that students may need to rely on each other more than the game itself when exploring all the options the game contains.
Overall Stardew Valley’s old-school 16 bit design, lack of direct conflict, and pleasing narrative make it a game that fits well into classroom use. The game is not graphically demanding meaning it can be played on older computers and it supports multiple save files allowing it to be shared by a number of students which could help classrooms on a budget. Finally the game autosaves at the end of every day. Each day is short making it easy to stop students at the end of a day or week so that the game can fit well into classroom activities. While the game is simple, Stardew Valley presents players with ample opportunity to explore and build the community they want to thrive.
Educational Rating: 6/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 7/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)