Okay, so first off, Stardew Valley is an amazing and addictive game, both for its gameplay cycle, it's 'one more turn/day'-itis, and its well fleshed out world you play in. It is the third that I'm going to be talking about today. Specifically, how NPC's can be flawed characters... and how that's not only okay, but that's actually a significantly contributing factor to WHY Stardew Valley is so relatable. A character's traits define what a character is, and a character's flaws are one of their most important and often character defining traits. Nobody (outside of a Mary Sue) is perfect. People aren't perfect, and even good people often have their flaws. Luke Skywalker started off as a whiny brat. His ignorance and naivete got him into trouble. His polarized views of good and evil, light and dark, are a part of why the 'I am your father' speech hit so hard, because a fundamental core value he cherished just got kicked right out from under him. That scene just wouldn't have worked if he didn't have that idealized view of arbitrary good and evil to get challenged. Han Solo, for all his charisma and chutzpah, was ultimately in it for the payday. He was deep in debt to organized crime lords, and needed to pay them off in a hurry. Even without the 'expanded edition' scene, you had a bounty hunter already try to take him in, forcing him to shoot his way out of the situation. And what I like so much about Stardew Valley is that Concerned Ape gave us a surprisingly rich and in-depth character bio for every single character, but one that isn't immediately available. You have to go looking for it, you have to actually become friends with people before they open up to you (shocking, I know... not immediately opening up to complete strangers... JRPG's would be horrified), but when you start seeing it, there's a feeling of verisimilitude that seeps in, and a lot of trope-y things about the town suddenly become clear as to WHY they exist. Because he does give characters some very realistic character flaws that only enhance the experience. For example, let's talk to everybody's favorite 'Ma and Pa shop owner, getting ruthlessly pushed out by the evil Wal-Mart Clone' Pierre. On first glance, he's got the usual story beats... he runs a small ma and pa 'five and dime' general store, where you can get everything from seeds to fertilizer to backpacks to produce. JojaMart has been heavily competing with him, and really impacting his bottom line, because he just can't compete with a major corporate entity who is perfectly willing and able to run at a loss for a fiscal year or two just to run out the competition and be able to drive the prices back up, and he knows it. However, that's not the only aspect we see here. We also see him neglecting his family in favor of his business, which is a VERY common small business owner mistake. The way Caroline reacts to the farmer and interacts with her family underscores this. Half the time, she puts in a half-hearted plug for her husband's business because it's their source of income and she feels obligated to do it. But at holiday events, they are rarely together as a family. Pierre is running a booth in the Egg festival, nowhere near his wife at the Spring dance, is trying to brown-nose with the mayor and governor at the Luau... there's a strain in the relationship, and while the game doesn't rub your nose in the situation, it is definitely there and felt. It's an open question as to if Abigail is even, biologically, Pierre's. Which again is not uncommon in that domestic situation. Caroline, being emotionally starved by her husband who is putting 110% of himself into his business, finds herself feeling neglected, and so when another guy expresses romantic interest in her when even her husband doesn't... yea, that's a temptation. A very human temptation. His relationship with his daughter Abigail is another very common situation which is all too often mirrored in real life. He's so busy with his business that he doesn't realize that she's all grown up now, and a legal adult. He still treats her like a high school teen, and she still reacts like a high school teen to the treatment. He has missed many of those father/daughter moments, his 'baby girl' has grown up right under his nose and he never saw it. And Abigail still seems to be going through that 'rebellious teen' phase, even in her early 20's. It is pretty clear she's doing the whole goth thing not because it is her thing, but because it pisses off her father. She goes out exploring because it beats getting stuck in the house all day getting ignored, or getting drafted into helping out with the store. It is an escape, yes, but it isn't for the love of adventure, it's because she doesn't want to remain where she is. And, as we see in her 10 heart scene, she doesn't really understand the risks involved in adventuring or exploring. She isn't really an 'adventuring spirit' like she thinks she is, she just wants an escape from her current life. And honestly, I can't really blame her. Her father treats her like a kid, she's got no job prospects, she's taking college courses by correspondence because her father can't afford to send her off to a college... she's not in a good spot, and is looking for a way out. This is a very dysfunctional family... which is great! This isn't Leave It To Beaver, these are very realistic issues that families often have. Pierre's so busy being focused on his business that he's lost sight of the family he's doing it for, which again is a very common problem with entrepreneurs. Caroline is so emotion-starved that she is widely rumored to have affairs on the side, because her emotional needs aren't getting met. She probably also realizes that the affairs aren't going to help, but they at least fulfill part of the gap. Abigail is being treated like a kid, but she's also still acting like a kid. She wants escape from her situation, but is unaware of the risks she is running in the outlet she has chosen. It is a great muddled mess worthy of any soap opera, and I love the game for having it instead of sugar-coating it! Let us compare and contrast this dynamic with another family unit: Robin, Demetrius, Maru, and Seb. Robin is your quintessential 'Rosie the Riveter' tradeskill proficient strong woman role model with a can-do attitude, and an infectious enthusiasm. She's also very much a 'mothering mother' who wants her kids to go out into the world and find their place in it, supportive of whatever they decide on for their life choices, often times very aggressively so. She all but throws you at both of her kids, feels that Maru needs to discover that there is more to life than beakers and test results, and Seb should get out of the basement and get some fresh air. She very clearly cares a great deal about Demetrius and shows no hesitation in demonstrating that affection very publicly, sometimes creating awkward situations through her over-exuberance and occasionally riding roughshod over other people's feelings in an attempt to 'fix' things that aren't necessarily broken. Demetrius is the Token Black Guy, pretty obviously. Which... well, there's a mixed bag with that title, I'll leave it at that. However, at least he's managing to avoid most of the Token Black Guy tropes. He's not physically intimidating, but a brilliant scientist, with a keen eye and a clipboard to record results with on hand at all times. And he has the character flaws that complement this... he's a Poindexter, a Steve Erkel, painfully socially awkward outside of professional laboratory conditions. He very much acts like someone who grew up going to magnet school, in the 'overachiever's anonymous' courseload, and pulled it off through innate brilliance and perseverance that earned himself a scholarship at an ivy league college, where of course he continued to apply his intellect to rise to the top of his class, likely graduating near or at the top of his class. All without ever having gone on a single date, attending campus-approved social functions, or managing to remove that stick that seems lodged so firmly up his rear that I'm surprised he doesn't cough up splinters. The ONLY time we see him act like something other than a Vulcan is when he is around Robin and Maru. Note I did not include Seb in that. HOWEVER, one thing he is NOT is Autistic, which I am very grateful for. He simply has a very stunted emotional development stemming from a lack of emotional support in his upbringing and his continued focus on coursework over social interactions. Maru is a brilliant mind herself. She's the town resident Nurse, with degrees in chemistry and biology, and with both the engineering and programming skills necessary to create a true Turing-complete AI. She's also very much Daddy's Girl, and if all the time they spend together is under laboratory conditions... hey, it's a language they have in common. And Demetrius plays up on the overprotective daddy role the moment you even become friendly acquaintances with her. For all that, however, despite being a potential romantic interest, she shows absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in anybody whatsoever. Which, to be clear, isn't a character flaw in the least, but it is an important part of her character as a whole. She doesn't have a single line of dialogue which indicates in any way that she sees you the farmer as anything more than a prospective lab partner, up to and including after marriage. Which, again, is cool. It's nice that CA has included an Ace option. She always struck me as the little girl who, when most girls were having tea parties with mudpies with her stuffed toys, Maru was writing up a report on the ratio of water to dirt in mudpies and the effects on consistency and other physical attributes thereof for the purpose of optimizing desired traits. Which... actually sounds pretty cute and adorable, now that I think about it, but does show that while she did pick up her mother's knack for working with her hands (to whit: her robotic engineering expertise), she also took very closely after her father. Sebastian, however, is the 'odd man out'. Robin still loves him dearly, and wants what is best for him, and isn't trying to define that 'best' for him, but is worried about how much time he spends 'doing that online stuff'. She values work, things you do with your hands. She might not understand the lab analysis that Maru and Demetrius do, but she can approve of building robots, because you're *building* something. Seb... doesn't fit into that very neatly. And he's got a very complex background to him. It's pretty clear that when his bio-daddy took off for greener pastures, and Robin pried Demetrius out of his shell, Seb was wanting a father-figure. But Demetrius, probably because HIS father never gave him more than stern lectures about perfection, didn't really know how to give that sort of fatherly affection to him. Seb probably got interested in computers as a way to show his step-father that he can do science too, which was probably dismissed by accident. There is this... emotional gulf between Seb and both of his parents. His mother honestly *wants* to help and support him, but doesn't know how. Demetrius honestly tried as much as he was capable of, but it was something very much outside of his core competencies and didn't really know how to handle it very well. Which leads us to Sebastian being the 'loner dude'. He's shockingly mature, probably the most emotionally mature of all of the marriage candidates, since he had to 'grow up' very rapidly. He hangs out with Sam, but he's always the one who is more grounded and serious, while Sam is always the rebel chasing a dream. Unlike Pierre and Caroline, Robin and Demetrius fully understand the need to 'punch out for the day' and spend time together, be it holding hands outside watching the sun set over the hills or dancing together at social functions or in the evenings on the weekend at the Saloon. I suspect this is mostly Robin's doing, although Demetrius certainly isn't complaining! And it is clear that there's a lot of genuine affection and romance going on here, which is a healthy thing considering their kids are legal adults now. They never lost that spark of romance, and that's a wonderful thing! However, they still have their miscommunications, most notoriously the trope-y 'tomato is a fruit' incident. But equally as important, they talk it over, bring it to a resolution, and move on having grown from it. You may note, Demetrius never makes that mistake a second time. While there are legitimate character flaws here, and while there's still some issues in the household, Demetrius being a classic overprotective daddy right out of the gate from the two heart relationship scene as an example, there's reasons for them. The only two things in Demetrius's life that he's truly emotionally been invested in are his wife and his daughter. That's just about the extent of his emotional circle. So anything that threatens the stability of that emotional circle... he's going to respond to with hostility. Robin, by contrast, is all but throwing her kids, either one, at you. This gives you a very realistic but also very awkward scenario where Robin is actively encouraging you to spend time with Maru, all the while Demetrius is doing that 'I've got my eye on you' stare. Next, let's address the elephant in the room when it comes to flawed characters... Linus. The fellow who presents himself as the 'outdoorsman', but in reality is a callout to a very real problem with homelessness that makes people feel slightly uncomfortable... as well it should! The basic fundamental flaw with Linus is that he isn't independent, no matter what he tries to present himself as. He has to dumpster-dive to live, that... isn't healthy. No, seriously, NEVER do this if you find yourself homeless. If nothing else, cross-contamination will taint any potential food items found in a bin. But even hand-waiving that issue for the moment... Linus is NOT independent. He is very much dependent upon Pelican Town for survival, otherwise he'd be living further in the woods instead of camping in Robin's backyard. So the whole 'rugged outdoorsman' attitude he presents is... not completely accurate. Does he know a few things about survival and bushcraft? Absolutely. And he's got some useful tricks and tips. However, he still dumpster dives in town until Gus takes pity on him and gives him leftovers. Which, again, is something that does happen in real life between some independent food establishments and homeless people, and is a far safer and healthier way of getting 'free food' than digging through bins. Linus makes people uncomfortable... which is his point! He's supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. Being homeless is a huge problem, and only growing. People don't like to look at that square in the face, cities spend a great deal of money and effort into trying to sweep it under the rug. Homelessness is an uncomfortable fact without a simple solution. However, a solution cannot be found if people keep ignoring the problem. Linus also gives off a mild 'sovereign citizen' vibe. He likes his current lifestyle, despite that it isn't sustainable without the pity and support of the town, but doesn't want to actively contribute to the town as a whole. He feels ostracized at social events, but it is his own fault for refusing to join the community as a whole. He refuses to join the township, and so the people respond by respecting his privacy and leaving him alone. Plus, yanno, previously mentioned 'homelessness makes people uncomfortable'. The biggest telling point is when he is offered a home, for free, and offered a small plot of land at the edge of the Farmer's property directly adjacent to the forest and river for him to live his naturalist lifestyle on. To which he responds with hostility, despite the obvious improvement in living standards it would provide. To be clear, I was something of an outdoorsman myself in my day, did my share of low impact camping and zero impact backpacking, did the whole bushcraft survival thing for an entire month just to prove -to myself- that I could if I had to. Given an option between a professionally built cabin, even one without power or water, and a tent? I would take that cabin any day of the week. It would make MANY things so much easier from a survival perspective. It would give me secure shelter for one (remember, there's at least one bear around), it would give me a place more insulated from extreme weather, it would give me a place to organize my few survival tools (even if I just lived out of my backpack). Even without a bed or chimney (which Robin would almost certain provide, given the cabins she builds for multiplayer is the model she would be basing it on), it would be a dramatic increase in quality of life on an absolute scale. And he completely and utterly rejects it. This, to me, is the greatest indication that Linus fully well knows that he's dependent upon the town's generosity and doesn't want to lose the sympathy factor of 'homeless dude living in a tent' and risk his deal with Gus. He doesn't want to become a member of society, yet he wants to take advantage of society's advantages. And that's great! This is such a rich character, with layers of complexity. He makes you uncomfortable, yet at the same time, he does have valuable lessons to teach you. You can't just discount him and write him off, because he's got things that are valuable for the player to understand. But at the same time, it doesn't pull any punches either, and doesn't sugarcoat the reality that homelessness sucks and is a major problem that people would generally like to conveniently forget about. Now, contrast with Leah. She's also a woods-wise individual, who spends much of her week in the forest foraging. However, the stark contrast is that Leah IS a member of the town's social community. She's got a shed on the riverside, she goes into town and interacts, she socializes at the Stardrop Saloon several days a week. While Linus deliberately excludes himself, then complains about being excluded, Leah makes no such effort and finds herself becoming a member of the town, just like you the farmer does. Despite the character flaws of the characters themselves, Pelican Town is a friendly, welcoming small town. You have to actively be antisocial to avoid getting included. Leah also grows as a character, while Linus stagnates. You can encourage Leah in her artistic hobby and help her make it a more sustainable living. It demonstrates a perfect example of being helpful and supportive without either trying to use it to control her or micromanaging it for her. You let her do her thing, but you do provide support where you can. She can heal her emotional wounds from the previous bad relationship, and find herself ready to move on. Leah at 10 hearts has grown enormously from Leah at 0 hearts (which, mind you, also has a rather unhealthy 'you can change someone if you love them' vibe that is all too common in rom-com). Linus... remains exactly the same character he was introduced as, with zero character growth, or any inclination TO grow. He is nice and comfortable where he is, thank you very much. Mind you, Linus's character stagnation and refusal to develop character growth is, itself, a very good literary foil. Often times, a negative example can be used to highlight the positive. Take, for example, Oscar the Grouch from the classic Sesame Street. He often made poor and antisocial choices, and reaped the consequences of his actions. Cookie Monster regularly overindulged in sweets... and just as regularly had to deal with a tummy ache as a result. And the reason why Linus's character doesn't grow is because he doesn't want to, which opens up a whole 'nother can of worms. He is happy and content with his current lifestyle, and sees no need to rock the boat or to change his antisocial habits. And that brings up yet another uncomfortable moral question... do we have the right to compel him to comply with societal norms? This strikes right to the heart of some fundamental questions about societal organization, and several hot-button political topics at the moment. Do we have the right to interfere in what we perceive to be a self-destructive course when we have been explicitly invited to mind our own business? Does the society have an obligation to care for him if he isn't willing to be a contributing member of society? Does he have an obligation TO society for being dependent upon them? To what degree are these obligations enforceable? To what degree should they be enforceable? These are uncomfortable questions that cause us to start questioning, or at least examining, the underpinnings of our everyday society, what what society's role in every day life is or even should be. What is the role, purpose, and function of a government? The fact that the game leaves these questions mostly unanswered is, in my mind, a huge win for the game, otherwise it would have been little more than a soapbox. And that is why Linus is probably one of the most interesting video game NPC characters I've ever seen. Not in spite of these flaws, but because of them. I could go on, but I think I've done enough pontificating for one day. The tl;dr version is: Yes, the characters are flawed, no this doesn't make the characters inherently bad, and this doesn't make Stardew Valley a bad game. Quite the reverse, in fact. What makes these characters so memorable, and makes the game so immersive and enjoyable, ARE those character flaws. CA deliberately wrote those character flaws into those characters. He could have just left them cardboard-cutout two-dimensional stereotype tropes, it would've in fact been MUCH easier to do so. But he gave us this depth and richness of life in Stardew Valley. We didn't get Leave It To Beaver, we got Pleasantville, and I couldn't be happier because of it.