from Running in ZK, a blog by members of the Twin Oaks community
While much of the covid-19 pandemic has fortunately left our community relatively untouched (we went on full external lockdown, so there is generally no masking/distancing/etc required while on the farm), it has certainly still brought along its share of stresses and desire for leisure activities to keep our spirits high. As with Settlers of Catan back in the early 2000s, communards sometimes think “hmm…what should I do to relax after a long day of farming, foraging, cooking, crafting, and raising animals? Oh I know: Pretend to do all these things!” Enter: Stardew Valley…
Stardew Valley is a computer game that has been around for a few years now, but recently came out on mobile so it has renewed popularity (also, Oakers tend to get into things a couple years after the rest of the world). It’s an adorable simulation game in which you inherit your grandfather’s farm after he’s passed away and proceed to try to make it into a productive part of the community, while also doing helpful tasks for others and flirting with the single people around town. While my real-life poly family was getting into this game on their own, we recently went on a little vacation at an AirBnB in town and decided to try out “co-op” mode. This got me thinking about all the similarities between the game and real-life communal living. The internet is also full of people just discovering community and wanting to immediately go buy land and invite their friends over, so this could potentially be a useful tool for folks to try it out group decision-making and income-sharing prior to taking the real-life leap.
The first thing to decide when going to co-op mode is whether or not to start a brand new farm or invite people to one you’re already been working on. This can be a test of what we in the communities movement call “Founder’s Syndrome.”
According to Wikipedia, Founder’s Syndrome is “a popular term for the difficulties faced by organizations where founders maintain disproportionate amounts of power and influence following the initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it.” Many communities are founded by one person or a small group of people who have a particular vision of what they want the community to be. While this is all well and good at first, it starts to become increasingly challenging as they try to attract new members who may generally agree but also have some different ideas about what they’d like to happen.
In Stardew Valley, if you invite people to join a farm that you’ve been laboring on for several in-game years, it can be beneficial because there is already an established base of income and less start-up labor, but can also be challenging if the founder is resistant to the suggestions of the other players, takes too much ownership of the land, and has very particular feelings about how things should run. It can be difficult for other players to speak up about the dynamic because they don’t want to disrespect all the work that the founder has put in, leading to building of resentment over time.
Starting a new farm with other people can lead to less of this, even though technically one person is still the “host” and needs to be logged in for others to be able to play. However, there is then a lot of work to do, quests to unlock, and minimal money to work with from the beginning. Just like in real-life!
Another feature to think about when starting your co-op farm is whether or not to share income. The default mode is income-sharing, so whenever a player sells a parsnip or buys an upgraded axe, this affects the total amount of money available to all players. This sounds idyllic in theory, but what happens when 3 people want to each get a bigger backpack for 4000g each but you only have 5000g? Do you talk about your purchasing desires all together and approve each transaction? Do you keep a separate ledger and keep track of 1/3 of the income each? Do you allot only a certain amount of personal spending each day or week? Decisions, decisions!
Group Decision-Making and Division of Labor
Along with how to make/spend money, there are several quests in the game that require various items. You’ll need to determine how to make decisions about which quests to prioritize, which items need to be kept as quest items versus being sold, and more.
How are you going to spend your precious time? Are you all going to be all-around balanced communards or is one person going to be in charge of crops while another goes out fishing and a third gathers resources from the mines? Do you alternate? What about a chore chart? All of these things can be discussed to your heart’s content. Sound like a lot of work before you even get to the work? Welcome to community life!
One of the great benefits of Stardew Valley is the plethora of fan-made modifications, aka “mods,” that can alter various aspects of gameplay. You can make your version of Stardew Valley even more realistic to community living by adding on some of these popular mods.
Multiple Spouses: While certainly not everyone in an intentional community is polyamorous, ethical non-monogamy (an approach to relationships wherein people can have more than one romantic and sexual partner at a time, and everybody involved is aware and enthusiastically consents to the dynamic) is generally more accepted and validated in these communities. Income-sharing and egalitarian communities are especially supportive of poly families since people’s romantic relationships can be untethered from issues of housing and economics because everyone in the community has their basic needs met through the efforts of the whole community. While the original version of Stardew Valley allows you to date many people but only marry one, the Multiple Spouses mod allows you to marry multiple people, live with multiple people, have kids with multiple people, and more!
Diverse Stardew Valley: You might notice how white most of the characters are in the original Stardew Valley. This is unfortunately not unlike many intentional communities founded by white folks. While you could leave the original version for a more sadly realistic experience, most people are drawn to community in order to imagine and create more inclusive utopian spaces. So if you’re a BIPOC looking to start a community or a white person wanting to try to get a better idea of what a multiracial community could look like, you can add the Diverse Stardew Valley mod. This mod adds ethnic, cultural, gender identity, and body type diversity to the original characters.
Unlimited Players: The original co-op mode limits the farm to 4 players. However, you might have more people than that in your community start-up group. The Unlimited Players mod will allow the host to add unlimited cabins to the farm. The more the merrier, right?
There are certainly many ways in which Stardew Valley is not anything like real-life community, from dungeon monsters to magic teleportation, but playing in co-op mode does require that folks practice the most central parts of community living: communication and cooperation! It might also reveal things about yourself and others that would be really good to know prior to actually living together. Oh, and don’t forget to also have fun while you’re at it