Dark Play in Paradise: Stardew Valley and the Negotiation of Abuse.
Paper to be presented at the International Communication Association Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.
Stardew Valley, on its surface, appears to be yet another invest-express farming game; players grow crops, tend to animals, mine, fish, and do other idyllic tasks that make it almost feel mundane at first. Yet, as time passes in the game, the player has opportunities to engage in relationships with non-player characters that reveal dark pasts, mental illness, and often take on abusive qualities. In other words, just under the hood of this bucolic game rests a culture where the player is able to opt-in to a kind of dark relationship-based play. In this paper, I analyze how abuse functions to offset this seemingly utopic game in a way that acts as a critique of games such as FarmVille and Animal Crossing. The predetermined scripts of the non-player characters force players to recognize their own helplessness in the face of abusive patterns of others.