This post originally ran on 3/07/2016. I’m bumping it up with minor edits because Stardew Valley just came out on Switch, and I’m determined not to be as careless with my heart this time around.
The week Stardew Valley came out, I predicted I’d spend the weekend playing a lot of Fire Emblem Fates and Far Cry Primal. I was completely wrong. On Saturday morning I started playing ConcernedApe’s pastoral life sim, and I didn’t really stop until late Sunday night.
Stardew Valley is a Harvest Moon-like sim where, in addition to farming, crafting, secret-hunting and dungeon-crawling (!), you can romance any of the bachelors or bachelorettes living in your small town.
Which brings us to Haley.
Act One: Be Still My Heart
When I arrived in Pelican Town, Haley was one of the first people I met.
“Rawr,” I thought. “I will win your heart through the time-tested practise of giving you the same gift over and over again until your love meter maxes out, then completing whatever arcane quest is necessary to obtain the unique item that allows me to marry you.”
How young I was then. How naive.
One of the first times I saw Haley walking around, I gave her a daffodil I’d picked. She loved it.
Sweet! This was going great. I tried to ignore some possible warning signs, like the times I’d try to talk to her and she’d completely ignore me.
She’s into her photography, I figured. I’m not some entitled city bro expecting all the women to pay attention to me all the time! I’ll talk to her when she’s not busy. I’ll be a responsible adult about this.
...so, naturally, I took the Lloyd Dobler approach and started standing outside her house in the morning with a daffodil over my head.
On her birthday, I was sure to give her another daffodil.
She seemed into it, but not that into it? Nah, I was probably imagining things. This was still going great.
A few days later, I stopped by her house, where she lives with her sister Emily. They were in the middle of an argument. I’ll admit, her greeting threw me a little:
“Oh, it’s that new farm boy,” she says.
Oh, you mean the guy you’ve been hanging out with on the reg, who keeps asking about your day and giving you flowers? And who remembered your birthday like four days after he met you because that’s not weird that’s charming and, uh, sweet, and anyway, “that new farm boy”? Really?
THANK YOU, Emily. Wait, Emily? Huh. I don’t think we’ve ever really talked. Anyway, thanks.
Turned out they were arguing about cleaning duties. I wound up brokering an agreement, but couldn’t help feeling like Haley was kind of being a brat about everything.
Act Two: The Big Dance
Not too long after that came the spring Flower Festival. I was new in town but even I knew this would be my big shot at getting a dance partner. My heart was set on Haley.
I’d been giving her daffodils as often as possible (which is twice a week) to make her like me (increase my heart score) as much as possible (to as high a score as I could get) and figured that if I asked her to dance, she’d totally say yes (because I’ve been conditioned by decades of video games to expect this).
I got to the festival and found Haley warming up in the middle of the dance area.
I blithely soldiered on.
Not only did I genuinely not expect to be so flatly, coldly rejected, it actually hurt my real-life feelings a tiny bit.
I’d assumed... well, I’d assumed that because this was a video game, I’d be totally able to focus on one girl from the outset, win her heart in time for the big dance, and make a splash in my new town by tearing it up at the Flower Festival. I wasn’t prepared for rejection, particularly not rejection prefaced with an “Ew.”
Now desperate, I asked all the other girls to dance, even though I hadn’t given them the time of day up until this point. You can probably guess how that went.
Eventually I’d exhausted my options, so I told the Mayor to go ahead and start the dance.
The dance was lovely! Oh, how fine the young people looked, dressed up so nice and proper. And look at Haley, with a ring of flowers in her hair! Everyone had so much fun.
Well, almost everyone.
Act Three: Things Go Downhill
Things just weren’t the same after the dance. I kept hanging out with Haley but I started to realise that she actually didn’t seem like a particularly nice or interesting person.
Spring ended and there weren’t any more daffodils, so I wasn’t sure what gifts to bring her. She wasn’t that into the new stuff I brought.
I gave her the wrong gift once, and she was pretty rude about it.
On top of that, I realised that half the time we talked, she was straight-up dismissive of me.
Even my little dude was getting sick of it.
One fine summer day, she full-on negged me twice in a row:
Okay, first of all: Like you don’t wear the same clothes every day?? Second, man, I sure am not getting the hint, am I?
The next time I saw her at the juice stand, she didn’t even say hi, she just started talking about some other dude.
And that was when I realised: Wow, this sucks! Go away, Haley! I have better things to do!
I’d reached the final act in an unexpectedly realistic video game depiction of what it’s like to be crushing on a girl who doesn’t know you, doesn’t seem interested or even particularly likeable, and has her own whole thing going on that has nothing to do with you. It was time to move on.
Act Four: Letting Go
Now, I understand that Stardew Valley is a video game. I get that all of the young men and women in Pelican Town are coded to be uninterested in my character at first, and that all of them can be gradually won over with affection and presents. I know that if I just keep at it, I can probably marry Haley and live happily ever after. She’s an artificial construct waiting around for me to enter the proper chain of inputs and “win.”
But Haley’s character has been cleverly written, to the point that, aided by a bit of projection on my part, my experience with her has mirrored real relationships that I (and I’m guessing a lot of other people) have had in the past. Infatuation leads to rejection leads to frustration leads to an eventual realisation that this person was wrong for me all along.
The nice thing about Stardew Valley is that there are always other fish in the sea. I’ve got a whole life to live here; a farm to build up, a community centre to save, a chicken coop to construct and a mine to explore. Maybe one-day Haley and I will be great friends, but I can tell well enough that we’re just not meant to be any more than that. And that’s fine.
Come to think of it, remember her sister Emily? There was that time she remembered my name...