Stardew Valley, like Harvest Moon and related games before it, mediates farming and gardening, the nostalgic longing for farm life and the idea of being part of an ecosystem.
Gersande la Fleche reflects on the “ecocritical possibilities” in the game (cf. URL): “While much of the farming in Stardew Valley is firmly rooted in the imaginary, there are some interesting expressions of farming, nature, and community that shine through the game. The passage of time and the importance of seasons is one chief concern that is immediately noticeable. During gameplay one learns to keep their attention focused on the clock and the energy bar on the left side of the screen, because time does run out and so can the player character’s ability to expend physical energy. Farming is backbreaking work in Stardew Valley. This is quite unlike Minecraft, where as long as you’ve got something to munch on you can go without rest or sleep for years on end. In Stardew Valley there is a pretty concrete limit to how much farming and physical labour can be done during a single day.”
(Edit by David ten Cate) At the same time, however, we may question the extent to which Stardew Valley constitutes the contradictory elements customary to many so-called green media objects. The game’s animal-friendliness is more of a posed idea than an enacted reality, and Erik van Ooijen (2018) has illustrated a discernible hierarchy between types of animals. While ranch animals such as cows, chickens and sheep portray a subjective relationship between rancher and animal without any affordance to kill and consume them, a variety of fishes can be caught from rivers, lakes and sea, and consumed at will. Van Ooijen calls this a gameplay difference in the “killability” of animals, and elaborates: “Although Stardew Valley sets out to avoid animal violence, and even promote an ethics of animal care, the way it categorizes species into different classes associated with different processes of gameplay nevertheless provides the player with a clear limit for that care” (Van Ooijen 2018, 179).