This week, I wanted to talk about the social values and environmental narrative in the game Stardew Valley. There are two routes towards completing the game- The first(true) ending is reached by restoring the Community Center and working with the Junimo forest spirits to bring the town together, and the second(bad) ending is reached by selling out to JojaMart and completing milestones through simply paying for them.
There’s a not-so-subtle commentary about corporate greed vs. protecting the environment and history of the townspeople. Buying a Joja membership results in the player no longer being able to collect rewards from the forest spirits, and in the endgame the local general store goes out of business due to Joja fully taking over the valley with the player’s help. The game encourages the player to save the Community Center- you get more rewards, increased friendship with the townspeople, and end up having a more fulfilling/complete game experience.
I can’t help but think the developers wanted to make some political or social point about how corporations in real life tend to “suck the joy out of everything” for the sake of their own success. The reading from Belman makes a point similar to this; “It is impossible to create an artifact that does not reflect values from some source (e.g. the maker, or the maker’s society), convey them through its structural features, and in some cases even impose those values on users” (Belman). In the game’s into sequence, we see our character working in a Joja office building, feeling burnt out and crushed by the corporation. There’s even a skeleton in one of the cubicles- implying that Joja doesn’t care if their workers just work to death. Joja’s greed also affected the Valley itself- the mines being blocked off at the start was due to illegal Joja activity, which funnily enough, the player has to pay to fix if they chose the Joja route, when it’s Joja’s fault in the first place. Morris, the manager of the JojaMart in town, is also super shady and underhanded in his business practices. One of the first scenes he’s seen in is when he goes into the local general store and hands out Joja coupons to everyone, which just screws over Pierre’s local business.
The player then faces the choice of which route is better. Do you pick Joja, the corporate monster, and turn the Community Center into a warehouse, complete Joja’s experimental “community program” and give Morris his promotion, while Pierre goes out of business and the forest spirits disappear? Or do you choose to protect the Valley from corruption, and work with the forest spirits to grow and discover things on your own, and restore the history of the Community Center to bring everyone together?
Stardew Valley Endings and Intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4EIxwMgp78
Belman, Jonathan, and Mary Flanagan. “Exploring the Creative Potential of Values Conscious Game Design: Students’ Experiences with the VAP Curriculum.” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture, www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/article/viewArticle/83/156.