Stardew Valley's Relationships are Really Rather Off-Putting

Stardew Valley's Relationships are Really Rather Off-Putting

After obsessively playing Stardew Valley for 55 hours over the course of one week, I lost interest rather abruptly when I ran out of things to work towards.

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Romances are naturally difficult to pull off right in gaming, after all games are just series of inputs and outputs, usually with some kind of element of randomness thrown in. Romance in games sorta have to work the same way, if you have multiple relationship options, a certain number of inputs have to produce the output. Of course, this is not the way relationships will ever work in real life.

In some ways, Dragon Age always seemed the closest to "getting it right", so to speak. Not that it does it great, but still. The approval systems work as such that you can't just offend someone at every corner and then romance them, and some options are simply locked off. Aveline was famous for being able to flirt endlessly only for it to never be fulfilled. Vivienne rips your fucking heart out if you ask her. In some ways, in order for relationships to be "mature" or more realistic- outright and unconditional rejection has to be an option. Mass Effect didn't have the same, er, effect, due to having no approval systems. Liara seemed like the only romance that was worthwhile and engaging all the way through, and that's mostly because of the time and character development in involved over three games.

There's no doubt relationships in games could use some work, but there's a reason why there's a whole genre of dating simulators, it takes a lot of work to even make it halfway believable. And most of those still fall well short of the mark of making a truly engaging romance.

The developer actually made some changes to what happens after marriage in a recent update, presumably because lots of people found it disappointing. Now the spouse retains some of their previous personality, and makes custom visits to the town or whatever based on who they are, rather than just immediately becoming a robot/slave for your farm. The dev also promised more changes to come.

More on topic, I think adding those kinds of changes and that kind of complexity to a game like this would be a bad move. Really, any kind of gamey systems driven approach to romance is going to feel weird, and increasing the complexity of the systems would just make it worse. It'd be a classic case of oversimulation, if you added something like that "expectation" meter the result wouldn't be that the player behaves more realistically, the result would be that the player would perform increasingly arcane and bizarre actions in order to maximise the affection. Better to either have it as simple as possible (the route Stardew Valley takes), or have it fully based on writing and multiple choices, anything in between would be the worst of both worlds.

This reminds me of playing Harvest Moon 64, where i was suddenly good chums with the mailman without giving him anything. But because i would talk to him every time i saw him, somehow convinced he might give me a letter or something.

This is my main problem with nearly every character being bisexual in Bioware games. It's not that I'm bothered by other people having choices, it's that romancing a character no longer feels special when I realize that they would shack up with literally anyone that came along named Shepard. I want their to be characters that will not pursue romance with me no matter how hard I try, because I'm male, because I'm heterosexual, because I'm a goody two-shoes, or because I made X decision in the past.

Regarding "life after romance" I really liked what Mass Effect did in episode 3. I romanced Tali and befriended Garrus in ME2, and the first mission with all three of us felt like date night with poor Garrus as the put-upon third wheel. Also, I don't know if everyone gets the "shooting beer on the Citadel" scene with Garrus, but that was one of my favorite moments in the series. Relationships that are not romantic can be some of the most interesting ones.

There seems to be an unspoken rule in games that NPCs must never come onto the player character - everything must be initiated by interest from the player.

Bioware rather infamously screwed this up with Anders in Dragon Age 2 where one wrong poorly labeled dialogue choice and your character is suddenly gay. That didn't go over so well.

I agree with the idea that not every character should be romance-able. I'll admit, I was happy Tali was included in ME2, since I liked her the best in ME1 anyways. But by ME3 things had gotten completely ridiculous with the sheer number of crew members willing to sleep with you. (Though I don't remember there being quite so many bisexual-options. Liara, and who else?)

All this talk of companions in BioWare games got me thinking of Old Republic. My character got his crew to like him by reading their bios for likes and dislikes helped him pick the right dialogue options in conversations, and if he messed up, he'd buy a gift (or have another crew member craft one) to correspond to that companion's preferences. Calculated to a sociopathic degree? Definitely. Then again, my character's starting class is a Sith Warrior, so that would fit his personality to a T, and it did get him a well-earned knobbing sesh with the Human Female Apprentice. Really, she came up to me one time back on the ship and said "Master, I want you." And I thought "Doing! Hello!"

GTAIV was somewhat realistic in this regard, as it had one character would never sleep with Niko no matter what.

im glad that they added a few fixes and updates for the married people out there in stardew, but for me, what i want them to add is the ability for me to matchmake them all (the 10 marrageable candidates) up and make them all happily attatched XD

(tho there likley would be a guy left over for me since cliff like one of the girl marrage candidates)

even if it was a DLC where after they were all wed, someone new would turn up (assuming i didnt get cliff hooked up XD) or, alternatively...cliff could be mine instead XD. its notlike i havent married the leftovers in harvest moon befor...
(in the original psx version, if you did not get the sort of homeless guy also called cliff, a part time job at the winery, he would have to leave the next year...which meant that one of marryable girls was left with no one...i didnt manage to get him the job the first playthru, so i ended up with her instead lol)

but i expect thats something i would have to ask a mod to make....tho i would prefer it to be a DLC after the co-op/multiplayer part of the game is done to be honest...along with a 'don't go, jojamart' option after you finish the community center.

bificommander:
I agree with the idea that not every character should be romance-able. I'll admit, I was happy Tali was included in ME2, since I liked her the best in ME1 anyways. But by ME3 things had gotten completely ridiculous with the sheer number of crew members willing to sleep with you. (Though I don't remember there being quite so many bisexual-options. Liara, and who else?)

Everyone liked Tali but it was still weird they let her be a bone option. They had to retcon how her species worked to allow you to have sex with her since before it would have been life threatening, they changed it to a bad allergic reaction so you didn't kill her with your dick.

Everyone talks about romance options for all players but the one option Bioware games don't account for is people who want to be married before having sex with their partner. I mean, I guess I can headcanon that Shepard is a captain so he can perform a ceremony himself, and I guess maybe Alistair can marry people? Still, it seems like in the middle of a world-in-peril quest, maybe you could develop a romance but wait to actually pork? I mean, in DA you shack up right there in the campsite with everyone else one bedroll away... But the games don't acknowledge that you even have a romantic relationship if you haven't had sex.

"but once you've gotten a ring on their finger all that personality seems to evaporate. They become just another labour-saving device on the farm that you feed with presents. Some days they feed the animals, some days they water the crops. By that point the farm exclusively used automated sprinklers and feeders, but I didn't have the heart to tell her."

Weird. Almost sounds like the developers were doing a mirror image of the princess myth (not sure if that's the correct name for it), where girls are told that romance is like a fairy tale, if they can get the Handsome Prince to the altar then they'll automatically live Happily Ever After. But in this case, if your character gets married then the girl turns into a fairy tale princess, ready to life Happily Ever After with all of her pre-marriage life and pre-marriage personality removed.

I was glad to read previous comments saying that the developers were going to give the npcs some changes after marriage so they still retain a personality.

"Long-time readers should know that I'm a sucker for a well-done romance in a game, because I'm so crushingly lonely."

Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch. Yeah, I'm a sucker for a well-done romance in a game or novel for the same reason. And I am aware of that. "Ouch" because I didn't really expect to get reminded of that loneliness in the middle of a video game article.

An interesting point of view, and one I'm not sure I 100% agree with. For one, conversations within the game actually do raise your relationship level if you talk about things of substance - helping a guy out with a new song title for his band springs to mind, and I'm sure that at least three people I've never actually given gifts to are sitting at the top of my relationship ladder.

But, on a slightly different note, a hypothetical to spur conversation. You say that:

The Indomitable Mr. Croshaw:
Every character has a heart meter representing how they feel about you that goes up when you give them presents that they like and goes down if you don't do it often enough. Which makes the population of this village come across as a rather sociopathically materialistic bunch.

Now, in some ways I agree with you, but consider that the other town members are not privy to this info - or if they are, they certainly don't act on it. You are the only one to do so - manipulating their feelings towards you and, in some cases, to others as you see fit. Does the gaming of the relationship system not make YOU, the PC in the setting the sociopathically materialistic one, as you're the only one plying people with presents to affect their opinions? Is it a flat world because it's fundamentally flat, or flat because you're seeing it through the eyes of a player fiddling with mechanics? If the bar wasn't there, would things feel more spontaneous and natural?

Just an interesting thought I had. I like that I had it - means that the article was one of substance.

Double post - apologies, all.

Michael Dunkerton:
Everyone talks about romance options for all players but the one option Bioware games don't account for is people who want to be married before having sex with their partner. I mean, I guess I can headcanon that Shepard is a captain so he can perform a ceremony himself, and I guess maybe Alistair can marry people? Still, it seems like in the middle of a world-in-peril quest, maybe you could develop a romance but wait to actually pork? I mean, in DA you shack up right there in the campsite with everyone else one bedroll away... But the games don't acknowledge that you even have a romantic relationship if you haven't had sex.

I agree with this. Not everyone's so gung-ho sexually that they'd be up for having sex under those conditions. And logically, there could be other cultures out there with strict beliefs about marriage/commitment rituals before intercourse. It would be interesting to see that explored -- Maybe those would be the characters with the hard-to-get achievements.

hentropy:
Romances are naturally difficult to pull off right in gaming, after all games are just series of inputs and outputs, usually with some kind of element of randomness thrown in. Romance in games sorta have to work the same way, if you have multiple relationship options, a certain number of inputs have to produce the output. Of course, this is not the way relationships will ever work in real life.

In some ways, Dragon Age always seemed the closest to "getting it right", so to speak. Not that it does it great, but still. The approval systems work as such that you can't just offend someone at every corner and then romance them, and some options are simply locked off. Aveline was famous for being able to flirt endlessly only for it to never be fulfilled. Vivienne rips your fucking heart out if you ask her. In some ways, in order for relationships to be "mature" or more realistic- outright and unconditional rejection has to be an option. Mass Effect didn't have the same, er, effect, due to having no approval systems. Liara seemed like the only romance that was worthwhile and engaging all the way through, and that's mostly because of the time and character development in involved over three games.

There's no doubt relationships in games could use some work, but there's a reason why there's a whole genre of dating simulators, it takes a lot of work to even make it halfway believable. And most of those still fall well short of the mark of making a truly engaging romance.

Speaking as someone who has only watched friends playing Mass Effect, I hear the Jack romance option is really good as well (with the ability to try and help mend her broken psyche rather than just bone her silly).

"Yay for giving the player a full range of choice but making every character potentially pansexual just leads to blandness" And there in is the reason I hate that they made all the characters in Fallout 4 player sexual. It doesn't feel like part of the person but an item on a checklist. God knows I found Arcade Gannon awesome

monkeymangler:

hentropy:
Romances are naturally difficult to pull off right in gaming, after all games are just series of inputs and outputs, usually with some kind of element of randomness thrown in. Romance in games sorta have to work the same way, if you have multiple relationship options, a certain number of inputs have to produce the output. Of course, this is not the way relationships will ever work in real life.

In some ways, Dragon Age always seemed the closest to "getting it right", so to speak. Not that it does it great, but still. The approval systems work as such that you can't just offend someone at every corner and then romance them, and some options are simply locked off. Aveline was famous for being able to flirt endlessly only for it to never be fulfilled. Vivienne rips your fucking heart out if you ask her. In some ways, in order for relationships to be "mature" or more realistic- outright and unconditional rejection has to be an option. Mass Effect didn't have the same, er, effect, due to having no approval systems. Liara seemed like the only romance that was worthwhile and engaging all the way through, and that's mostly because of the time and character development in involved over three games.

There's no doubt relationships in games could use some work, but there's a reason why there's a whole genre of dating simulators, it takes a lot of work to even make it halfway believable. And most of those still fall well short of the mark of making a truly engaging romance.

Speaking as someone who has only watched friends playing Mass Effect, I hear the Jack romance option is really good as well (with the ability to try and help mend her broken psyche rather than just bone her silly).

You would think that's how it goes

it really just ends up as Shepard pushing all her buttons until she breaks, and then she shows up in your room crying so you can bone her silly.

Her ME3 representation is a little better though, but MAN was her ME2 romance plotline poorly made

Also, if we're going to talk about romance in games I think it's a little unfair to compare a company like Bioware's flagship IPs with Stardew Valley. A game made by one guy on a limited engine and his first game to boot.

It's funny you should bring this up, because I've been noticing some of the oddities in the system. A few examples:

-At one point, the local blacksmith, clift, mentions he's lonely and he's envious of the fact that everyone likes you(the PC) while he can't get anyone to notice him, especially not the barmaid he facies. While you get a choice of dialouge options, the real answer I wanted to say was "I don't know. I've just been shoving gifts in everyone faces for the past year. Hey, Person I want to get in good with, here's a flower I just picked up 5 feet away from you not a minute ago. Please like me!".

-Some people will like you more just because you keep talking to them. Somehow Pam is my best friend because I actually talk to her at the bar. I've also bought her a bunch of beer, because it stands to reason someone who spends every night at the bar likes beer, but I does make me feel like I'm just enabling her alcoholism, especially since she's apparently unemployed and lives in the only trailer in town.

OTOH, I'm also super friends with the mayor because reasons, apparently because I talk to him often but I wonder if restoring the community center factors into it.

Even with the few issues this game has, most of them get a pass because it was literally designed by one guy. If he skimped a little on the relationship system, I'll deal.

I'm actually more annoyed by certain NPC's will go for days without opening their shops. Damnit, Marnie, my cows are starving and you spent 2 days not selling feed. Then you go to the bar and say "I wasn't very productive today". No crap you weren't.

You do realise that calling gingers 'flawed' and having 'freakish mutations' is actually ridiculous, don't you? Everyone knows gingers are homo sapiens' next evolutionary step up. :P

Anyway, regardless of the fact that I have no interest in the majority of the games that you're commenting on or reviewing, I always enjoy your lyrical virtuosity, occasional slip-ups notwithstanding. Prattle on, good sir.

bificommander:
I agree with the idea that not every character should be romance-able. I'll admit, I was happy Tali was included in ME2, since I liked her the best in ME1 anyways. But by ME3 things had gotten completely ridiculous with the sheer number of crew members willing to sleep with you. (Though I don't remember there being quite so many bisexual-options. Liara, and who else?)

Kaidan has a thing for Male Shep in ME3. Then there's Diana Allers and Kelly Chambers, and I've just discovered Samara has a romance scene in the Citadel DLC if you tried (unsuccessfully) to woo her in ME2.

Recently, I wondered. What if you have an AI that tracks events as nodes in a graph, and then associates these events with each other by proximity, maybe with a directed graph with propabilities attached to them. And each time events occur either simultaneusly or in close succession, you add this to the graph. Over time, you could aggregate some kind of pavlovian conditioning, where the listener expects certain things when perceiving events. You could have causality and correlation chances for events, and when faced with decisions, make educated guesses based on past experiences.

Just a thought. Not really related to stardew valley.

"Yay for giving the player a full range of choice but making every character potentially pansexual just leads to blandness."
I disagree. How much do you value gender preference in a persons personality? Fethishes carry more personality than that basic shit.

hazydawn:
"Yay for giving the player a full range of choice but making every character potentially pansexual just leads to blandness."
I disagree. How much do you value gender preference in a persons personality? Fethishes carry more personality than that basic shit.

It's not just a matter of gender preferences. In this instance, pansexual means they are sexually attracted and romantically interested in every person, ever. Or more accurately, their preferences are set the moment you create your character--to be in love with you. It certainly does not feel special to me to have a relationship with someone knowing that they are equally attracted to everyone else in the world and would be just as likely to wander off with the next PC to come along.

Michael Dunkerton:

It's not just a matter of gender preferences. In this instance, pansexual means they are sexually attracted and romantically interested in every person, ever..

Huh? What? Can you please not redefine words to express yourself? That should help communication and stop these words from becoming a meaningless mess. You might as well worry in real life what would happen if your special someone wasn't with you. Spoiler: They'd be with someone else. And they very very likely would like to fuck other people too. You are creating problems where none need to be.

Or more accurately, their preferences are set the moment you create your character.

That's also true if they are staight, gay, or bi. They still end up liking you. And the reason for that is that you want to have fun in games and not be limited by such BS. "I really like to romance this character. Such a shame he's not into [insert ethnicity]" The problem is not that they are potentially open for both sexes. Like I said, this doesn't affect their personality in any significant way.

hazydawn:

Michael Dunkerton:

It's not just a matter of gender preferences. In this instance, pansexual means they are sexually attracted and romantically interested in every person, ever..

Huh? What? Can you please not redefine words to express yourself? That should help communication and stop these words from becoming a meaningless mess. You might as well worry in real life what would happen if your special someone wasn't with you. Spoiler: They'd be with someone else. And they very very likely would like to fuck other people too. You are creating problems where none need to be.

Or more accurately, their preferences are set the moment you create your character.

That's also true if they are staight, gay, or bi. They still end up liking you. And the reason for that is that you want to have fun in games and not be limited by such BS. "I really like to romance this character. Such a shame he's not into [insert ethnicity]" The problem is not that they are potentially open for both sexes. Like I said, this doesn't affect their personality in any significant way.

Words mean different things in different contexts and I was defining it as it was obviously being used in the quote. Anyway, my point is that I want my character's relationships to mean something, not be automatic as soon as I boot up the game, provided I check some boxes. I get that people want games where they can just go screw everyone without investment, consequence, or deeper meaning. But there are games like that already. Fallout 4 was praised for that. But there have always been few games where relationships were more than checking boxes, and even those series (like Mass Effect and Dragon Age) are moving increasingly towards making everything an option at the cost of realistic characters and the dynamic of not only finding someone you love, but someone who loves you back.

Michael Dunkerton:
Words mean different things in different contexts and I was defining it as it was obviously being used in the quote. Anyway, my point is that I want my character's relationships to mean something, not be automatic as soon as I boot up the game, provided I check some boxes. I get that people want games where they can just go screw everyone without investment, consequence, or deeper meaning. But there are games like that already. Fallout 4 was praised for that. But there have always been few games where relationships were more than checking boxes, and even those series (like Mass Effect and Dragon Age) are moving increasingly towards making everything an option at the cost of realistic characters and the dynamic of not only finding someone you love, but someone who loves you back.

Pansexuality is never used in your context. You can't just use context to excuse your false use of a word and it's not obvious that it is used in your made up way in the text. It is likely used to mean what the dictionary says it means, which is not your made up BS.

"Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, is sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity." -Wikipedia
It is obvious that is the way the word was used because that's what it fucking means. That does not mean a pansexual is attracted to everyone at all times or even possibly attracted to everyone. They also take attractiveness and other pysical or character preferences in consideration.

And in my original comment I said it shouldn't be restricted by gender. Because that takes nothing away from the character or the romance for the most part. Except maybe if a character needs to make a deal out of their sexuality. Most times they never talk about it. You can have your sophisticated romances and still let it be open for both sexes.

I still think that video games should take some cues from the best visual novels. The building of a relationship over time is one of the reasons I am still such a huge fan of Visual Novels. I also like that the romance is not just some side activity but pretty damn central to the narrative. Because of that many of the heroines in Visual Novels like Fate/Stay night are still my favorite characters in any media.

 

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