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Stardew Valley...With Kids!

By Red Thomas on February 13, 2020 | Columns | 0

I’ve been itching for a chance to play an MMO with my nieces and nephews, but I may have pushed a little hard to get them into the genre.  I’ve tried with a few different games and none of them have been hugely successful, though I do think there are a couple out there that work well for the right kids.

That said, I bought my niece Stardew Valley a couple weeks ago and she’s become a fan.  She’s also attracted the interest of one of her brothers with the game.  Since up to four players at a time can play at a time in multiplayer, this has worked out pretty well and the three of us have had a blast playing.

That’s not to say all is roses, though.  There are some aspects of Stardew Valley that could be done much better.  In this article, we’ll go over some of the minor issues with the game, and I’ll also spend a little time explaining the several reasons I’d highly recommend the game anyway.  Looking for a game to play with the kiddos?  Well, read on and see if this might be the one you’ve been searching for.

Stripling Snags

There were a few issues with Stardew Valley that you should be aware of if you intend to play with juvenile gamers.  None of these were show-stoppers for me but did provide minor aggravations that you might better avoid with some foreknowledge.

The first problem that jumped out at me was how wonky it was to join a game with friends.  We were playing the game in Steam, and so I really expected all the normal Steam functionality but getting my niece into that initial game did not go quite as smoothly as I would have liked.  In fact, it actually made me feel a little bad.

I was effectively troubleshooting the game with her through Steam chat while trying to get the game online.  I found out later that she walked away from the experience feeling like she wasn’t as smart as her older brothers.  On one hand, that’s on me.  I didn’t realize it, but I must have accidentally slipped some of my frustration despite consciously trying to hide it from her.  Though, I have to say that it ended up being an awesome teachable moment, too.

I later got to explain to her that troubleshooting is all about the failures, and that those are even more important than the successes.  Thus, she shouldn’t feel slighted at all when she runs into things that don’t work.  Plus, both her brothers have been playing games a lot longer and just have more experience, so it’s not really a fair comparison.

It was a good moment in the end, but I’m not happy that we had to go through it in the first place.  The strange invite code system used to get someone to a game just feels weird.  I have to acknowledge that the positive of it is that no one is joining your game without your permission, so it could be considered a safety feature.  It’s possible that it’s even intended to be one.

Find the invite code in-game under the options menu.

We also had problems joining the game from Steam when she tried to join on me.  When I sent her an invite, that seemed to work to connect her to the game, but then she couldn’t join all the way into the game in progress for some reason.  I think it comes back to this invite code.  If you play, I’d recommend that you invite everyone the first time using that invite code and try to get all four invites out as soon as you start the game.  After that, I think you can join via Steam fine.  More testing would be needed to confirm, but that’s the way it appears for now.

Another minor irritation was the lack of integrated VoIP.  It’s such a trivial feature to implement these days that I’m a little disappointed to not see it.  It’s not something that kills the game for me by any means, because I often use Discord with the kids and Steam has their integrated VoIP, now.   It’s just a quality of life thing that I think having native to the game would make the experience with kids a little better.

The last problem I had with the game, and you’re going to laugh at me, is romance.  The game features romance options and it’s a core component of the actual game’s experience.  I’m not knocking the developers, because it’s a big part of what makes the game attractive to grow-up gamers.  It’s an odd conversation when your nieces and nephews start telling their parents about their Uncle’s new girlfriend.  I think I’ll leave that one right there and just hope you all can avoid that potential familial landmine before you get that odd call from your sister.

Tadpole Triumphs

Don’t for a moment think any of those problems are enough to overcome how great this game is to play with kids, though.  Just the nature of the game is relaxing and an easy experience (once you can get everyone in the game) and it’s a fantastic time with kids.  I don’t believe that I’d quite put it up on the Minecraft level as a nearly perfect experience to share with children, but it’s definitely up in the same realm, I think.

Right out of the game, the fact that the game allows you to share or split finances is great.  With the older kids, we can all go do our own thing and just enjoy being in the company of each other.  Though for the younger kids, I can share the bank account with them and help fund their activities, which makes the experience a lot more fun for them.  There’s so much to do in Stardew Valley and not all of it is cost-effective, but with Uncle Red ensuring the bank account stays in the black, the kids are free to go fight slimes, talk with the NPCs, or just play with their new baby animals.

Source:  https://www.stardewvalley.net/press/

My niece loved the baby animals and spent a large portion of our budget creating a petting zoo.

That actually brings me to the second thing I really like about Stardew Valley as a game to play with kids, which is that they have so many activity options.  Birthdays, events, fishing, mining, exploring, dungeon-diving, and obviously a number of agriculture options, and the list just goes on and on when it comes to content for this game.  In a single game, there are activities that seem ideally suited to each kid and what they’re interested in.  I also like that each is producing goods that the others are interested in, which encourages a form of cooperative behavior.

Another thing in the plus category for the game is the choice in graphics.  No, it’s not the top of the line ultra-high-textured graphics from many of the games, but the choice to go with simple pixel graphics means that the game runs very smoothly on a wide range of systems.  As each of our proxy kids turn twelve, I build those that are interested in gaming a decent rig that’ll get them up and running the latest games with most the graphics topped out, if not all of them.  For those less interested in gaming, I’ve been copping out and just sending them a decent laptop.

In the case of my niece who has started getting interested in games like The Sims and now Stardew Valley, the simple graphics means she can enjoy the game right along with me.  In fact, she was specifically the first person I thought of when I recently re-played Stardew Valley and it just happens that her brothers saw her playing and got interested, as well.

Simpler graphics means that kids can play the game on nearly anything, which is really handy.  I have two nieces traveling to San Antonio to spend some time with me this week.  With a couple extra laptops, they’ll be online and raising critters with me, as well.  The game also travels well, allowing me to play my own save or with the kids, even when I’m out of town on business.  Games with simpler graphics continue demonstrating their place in the industry for me, and Stardew Valley just shows how valid that choice can be yet again.

Source:  https://www.stardewvalley.net/press/

There are lots of interesting in-game events that add variety to the game.

Maybe the best part of the game for the purposes of playing with kids is something I mentioned earlier, which is that the game is totally co-op.  There is no innate competition between the kids.  They can create their own fun by competing to see who can catch the biggest or the most fish, or who can go the deepest into the mine of a given day.  There’s no direct game-enforced competition, which creates a really relaxed environment in which I can enjoy the kids.

As much as I love Minecraft as a brilliant game to play with younger family members (and associated tag-alongs), someone’s always falling into lava or meeting a creeper at the wrong time.  Thus, one kid or another will occasionally walk off in a not-unjustified pout.  There’s none of that in Stardew Valley because other than dying at the bottom of the mine occasionally, the normal worst case is someone staying out too late and dropping in exhaustion.  That’s not a problem when playing with joint resources, because their Uncle ensures there’s plenty of cash in the bank for occasional woopsies.

Adolescent Ascendency

All things considered, yes.   This is absolutely a game that I’d recommend playing with kids.  It’s not as action packed as some of your own youths may prefer, but it’s a fantastic experience that I think the average kid all the way up into high school are likely to enjoy.  Older kids may take a little convincing, but I think they’ll find that they enjoy the game more than they’d expected once they’re in it.

Stardew Valley does a great job of leading you from one simple objective to the next, providing players with a constant list of very achievable goals.   This is one of the reasons that I think younger gamers feel so successful playing the games, and that older gamers find themselves being more interested in playing just “one more in-game-day.”  The constant stream of easily obtainable objectives gives you a path forward, though it doesn’t force you to it.  I think it makes the game more achievable and playable for younger gamers by acting as a sort of guide, while also leaving older gamers free to set and work towards their own goals.

Source:  https://www.stardewvalley.net/press/

Competition is good, but sometimes it’s nice to just play a game where there’s no combat and no PvP.

Essentially, this game has just about everything that I’d want in a game I planned to share with kids.  It also has the depth that keeps me interested while I play online with them.  As you may have noticed through this series of articles, that’s not a super common theme.

If you’re looking for a game to play with younger ones, definitely consider this one and let me know how it goes for you.  If you see it on sale the recommendation is all that stronger.  Even at full price, I was glad to buy a few copies for several of my kids, though.  Sometimes you’re on a budget and you have to be judicious with your money, but when I see a team execute this well, I like to show my appreciation with my wallet.  Stardew Valley is most definitely a game I appreciate.


Red_Thomas

Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.