There’s no more work to do today on Pepperidge Farms. It’s winter here in Stardew Valley, and there is no need to water the crops because the crops are sleeping. Besides, I’ve bought enough automatic sprinklers to make my watering can a redundancy. The cows and chickens have been fed, the eggs and milk have been collected, and there’s enough hay in the silo to last me until the end of time.
It’s only 10 A.M, and there’s nothing to do but kill time. Maybe I’ll go see who’s hanging around town today. I could always explore the mines, but the soft purr of the beach’s breaking waves are more like a roar today, and it calls out for me to grab my fishing pole and head to the pier. Then again, maybe it would be best to just wander around my orchard for a while. It’s never quite as beautiful in the winter, but there is a serenity to the stillness it offers that seems to compliment this perfectly dull day.
Stardew Valley has been billed as an indie game, an RPG, or a farming simulator depending on which website you check its genre on. To me, however, Stardew Valley is a zen garden game.
It’s a genre you won’t find on many store shelves, or even in the depths of Steam’s classification system. The good reason that’s the case is because the zen garden genre doesn’t technically exist. Very few games have ever been specifically designed to provide the kind of personal serenity that ancient zen gardens are intended to produce. Actually, with the possible exception of a title like Flower, many games that are designed specifically to provide the harmony of a zen garden fail to do so simply because there are so few concepts that induce universal serenity through gaming.
Instead, players tend to find their own zen gardens. For some, it is a game like The Golf Club that allow the player to stay out all day on a digital golf course; isolating themselves from anything resembling worry. Others will find that a more action-heavy game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers the elusive feeling of perfect peace. Not through the game’s most dramatic moments, but rather through the knowledge that comes from having truly explored a beautifully rendered world to such a degree that they can tell you what the valley beyond that mountain range in the distance looks like.
Some have recently found it in the controversial No Man’s Sky. To them, the game’s sidelined features and incredible hype are secondary to the stunning calm that comes from wandering aimlessly across the universe.
That’s the great thing about zen garden games; you don’t have to justify your own. They can come in just about any form and often comfort you without you realizing the exact effect they are having. It’s not important which game you claim as your zen garden, but rather that you keep trying new experiences until you’ve found that one perfect game where there is never a dull day because the dull days are the best of them all.