Here’s what happens when the pixels don’t live up to your expectations.
Allow me to preface this by saying, yes, I know Stardew Valley is a video game. And yes, like all other video games that have romance options in them, Stardew Valley has a tendency to suck the life out of your chosen partner once you’ve talked to them enough, given them enough gifts, and chosen the ‘correct’ dialogue options needed in order to marry them and ‘win.’
Romance options are my favorite part of any video game. Who doesn’t like the idea of seducing good-looking chicks and dudes, and getting them to open up their tiny, troubled hearts to you? So naturally, when I started playing Stardew Valley for the first time, I was thrilled with the romance options that were available to me.
Now, I’m not that far into the game, but I did do a little bit of research for what I needed in order to make those cuties mine. At some point, my character came to a crossroads. Did I want to develop my relationship with Alex, the best-looking guy in town? Or did I want to pursue a relationship with Sam, the happy-go-lucky musician with big dreams of starting a band? Then, there was also Sebastian – he was a little reclusive, and he lives in his parents’ basement. But he seemed like a genuinely nice and shy guy. Totally my type.
The event scenes with these characters have been sweet enough; Alex shared his dreams of wanting to become an all-star athlete, and Sam consistently displays his passion for music and his skateboard. They’re pretty well-written personalities, and it’s hard not to get attached to these characters.
When I discovered that you could marry characters in Stardew Valley and even have a baby with them, the prospect of entering a romantic relationship seemed so much more enticing. Here, I had three guys to choose from. All I had to do was decide which one my little farmer girl liked the best and wanted to spend the rest of her life with. And that’s when the trouble started.
To fully explain the dilemma that I was facing, I need to wind the clock back a bit and talk about Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. Fire Emblem, much like Stardew Valley, gave players the option to romance and potentially marry certain characters. My Nohrian princess had her heart set on a strapping young chap named Laslow, and I focused on getting those support rankings up as quickly as possible. But once we got married, everything went downhill from there.
Laslow was, to put it mildly, a pain to deal with. He was constantly in my bedroom, wanting to be pampered, and he was reduced to nothing more than a glorified house husband who stayed indoors all day, and sometimes fought in the battlefield. If I even decided to bring him along in the first place. I quickly realized that Laslow wasn’t all that interesting, and instantly regretted my decision to marry him. While my princess quickly found her heart ensnared by her brother Xander, I couldn’t help but wonder if she would’ve gotten bored of him all the same once they had gotten married and settled down.
Now, back to Stardew Valley. I’ve got three possible choices for a romantic partner: Alex, Sam, and Sebastian. The question that I’m facing here isn’t simply, who do I like the most? The more pressing question is, who do I like enough that I won’t get immediately bored once I’ve chained them down with marriage?
Will Sam continue to capture my attention with his music once he starts living on the farm with me? Do I find Sebastian cute enough to be able to tolerate his constant presence in my farmhouse? Is a happy marriage in the cards for my avatar, or is she doomed to forever get tired of romantic interests once the game has been won?
I also spoiled myself a little by quickly looking up the marriage effects in Stardew Valley. To my utter horror, I discovered that all spouses have more or less the same dialogue lines, and they all basically give up on the dreams they’ve been pursuing in order to start a family with you. That was depressing. I never wanted Alex to give up on his dreams, and I know it would pain me to see Sam quit music. I certainly didn’t want to get into a situation where I caused these characters to give up their passions all just because a simple farm girl decided it would be exciting to get married, then quickly got tired of them because there was nothing left to pursue.
More importantly, I feared that these characters would become so terribly boring if they left their previous lives behind to stay with my farmer. Winning is fun, but the victory that comes from conquering a video game romantic interest is dreadfully short-lived. After all, the human heart wants what it can’t have.
It was as if these characters had completely bared their souls to you once you got married. You know everything there is to know about them, so once you reach the end goal of getting married, the thrill of pursuit and discovery is gone. There’s probably a Steam achievement for getting married, and that would certainly make it feel like a checklist. Pursue someone, find out all about their likes and quirks, get into a relationship, get married, the end. Kind of like real life, in some cases.
Interestingly enough, the dilemma I faced in Stardew Valley mirrored some of the real life internal conflicts I (and a lot of other people, I’m sure) have experienced. The bulk of the fun comes from the chase, the inherent desire to attain something that seems unattainable. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, there are a couple of possible outcomes: one, you realize you’ve reached your goal and you’re now feeling satisfied with your progress and reward. Or two, you realize that the top isn’t as exciting as you thought it would be, and you’re now overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness because there’s nothing left to chase.
For me, the latter seems like the more likely outcome in Stardew Valley. Maybe I’ve got video game commitment issues, or maybe I just never really liked these video game pixels enough to want to jump into a marriage with them in the first place.
Either way, thank goodness these are just video game characters, and not actual real people, huh? Now, back to parsnips.