A writer's perspective on why NPC's character flaws enhance the SDV experience

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ShneekeyTheLost, Oct 19, 2019.

  1. ShneekeyTheLost

    ShneekeyTheLost Black Hole Surfer

    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.
      Medicell, WilliamZ, jjyy and 6 others like this.
    • Pangaea

      Pangaea Forum Moderator

      This is a spot-on analysis of these characters. Well done! I'd be interested to see analyses on the rest but I understand it would be a lot to write out. (;
      • Anhaga

        Anhaga Master Chief

        I think your analyses work pretty well for these characters, honestly. I particularly like the reading of Linus, as that makes him much more complicated and problematic--he's less a character to be pitied and more one to be troubled by.

        The one that I'm still grumpy about, especially after having married him, is Shane. Why is he still drinking heavily after all the supposed realizations and changes that happen during the friendship arc? I really wish that he stayed steady in those changes after the events. It kind of stinks to have a dynamic character who doesn't really change.
          Last edited: Nov 10, 2019
        • Xylia

          Xylia Tiy's Beard

          Yeah, the characters in this game feel more realistic than most games. I could imagine this group of characters and/or families existing in real life to some capacity, as they are simply down-to-earth believable and well written.

          The guy certainly knows how to write good characters, that's for sure!
          • jjyy

            jjyy Void-Bound Voyager

            you are absolutely a writer. i'm loving it
            • Zosa

              Zosa Cosmic Narwhal

              well, you missed the mark on linus but that is ok too, not everyone has experienced homelessness(or experienced it in the same way) as someone who has been homeless before i can say with assurance the gifted home is actually not helpful at all since he has no actual way to pay for utilities or taxes or maintenance or insurance in the best of cases and no stability in living in a place where he owns nothing in the worst of it as he isn't able to keep it if the farmer decides to change their mind and might actually have validated fears outside of the monetary ones for being obligated to remain stationary in a highly unstable place especially given that he's been harassed before and he does not know if the gift is a sincere(if ignorant) attempt or if it is a trap designed to harm him or steal his things(something that does actually happen to the homeless). without a safety net the risk is too high and with our character removing his personal agency(forcing him to take all of these burdens and dictating where he must go and how he must do things once he is there) it isn't worth it. there is also something to be said about the fact that even if all goes 'well' he still has to have a certificate of live birth, a valid social security card and in some places a valid photo-id to get a job if he is to properly integrate into the community. when i was young i lived in the usa(where this is modeled after) and i had to get a personal id without existing photo-identification and it took days of running around collecting documentation to allow me to get one(as it turns out where i lived you needed two proofs of identity with pictures AND proof of address to get a state-issued card with your photo). i only had an address, some standard mail, my social and a duplicate of my birth certificate and they were really fussy about taking that. in the end i got the card but when i went later to get a drivers license with only one id they were still fussed and made me get state-issued mail to prove to them i was who i was and use my original birth certificate. i know not every place is this aggressive about identity but aside from /maybe/ the certificate of a live birth and social card he'd have none of this and so would not be able to apply for most if any jobs(and as pelican town is in a depression and lacks jobs he could not get in by knowing people). on top of all of that he is not a young man, he is clearly older than 50 so even if he had all the things he needed(that is he was a well-off as say sam or sebastian) he'd be a 'risky' hire and i don't think anyone over the age of 25 is under any illusion over how expensive it is to live on your own even scraping on the bare minimums. not to mention that just after you moved in some hooligans threw rocks at his tent in the night and meeting the citizens of pelican town a fair few of them would be prime candidates for throwing rocks at a homeless person as a way to work out their own frustrations

              long and short of it he doesn't have the money to keep a house, he doesn't have the paperwork to make money and even if he wanted to be friendly with people he's been actively pushed away and multiple townies are very aggressive towards new people(which can be dangerous if you are homeless and do not have the support of the police should it become an assault) within the first year he'd either have his property seized for failure to pay or be so stressed out by the continual roadblocks keeping him from integrating that he'd be unable to function in a safe and sociable way. no matter how it is spun he'd eventually be back in that tent, possibly with even lass than he had before and with three of the most influential people in town against him(you the player who buys more, sells more and uses more than anyone else, lewis the mayor who is in charge of debt-collection and robin the current owner of his warm-weather stopover and, who at any time can use castle law to brutalize or kill him or can call in the police to imprison him). i think in the end you never really did understand linus though i do so hope you'll eventually accept him
              • ShneekeyTheLost

                ShneekeyTheLost Black Hole Surfer

                Here's where you are wrong, both about your assumption with my ignorance with homelessness and the situation he is in.

                The new home has no 'utilities', no homes require maintenance in SDV, and the only taxes appear to be business tax in SDV. So there is literally no downside to the offer.

                Again, not the same situation. SDV is not presented with ANY of these issues that exist in real life. You're building strawman arguments left and right. He needs no documentation, he needs no job, none of these are issues he faces by being gifted a cabin.

                He's already vulnerable to eviction under any sane practice of law as being a squatter on someone else's property.

                You are again inventing problems that do not exist within the context of Stardew Valley.
                • Zosa

                  Zosa Cosmic Narwhal

                  well i suppose if you discount and invalidate anything that doesn't support your theory then your theory has not problems.
                  • ShneekeyTheLost

                    ShneekeyTheLost Black Hole Surfer

                    Considering none of them are issues within SDV, yes I discount them. Just as I would discount a claim that Putin would have put them all to death... because it isn't relevant within the context of the world that they actually live in.

                    Pelican Town does not live in an 'information age' society. There are no social security numbers, there are no bank accounts, there is no paperwork, and there is no additional expenses that he would have. Hell, you keep all your currency in GOLD in the form of coins stashed in some presumable extradimensional pocket. In many ways, Pelican Town operates far more like a preindustrial hamlet, or perhaps a hamlet still operating within a preindustrial country that has a postindustrial influence.

                    Furthermore, you are assigning FAR more hostility to the community than actually exists. Remember, this is the same community who welcomed Pam and her trailer house, I don't think I need to remind you what would've happened in any other town where someone tried to roll up a trailer house onto a residential lot.

                    The world of Stardew Valley does not possess the same laws that modern America, or even modern Europe do.

                    I realize you have a great deal of sympathy for his position as a result of your brush with homelessness. And you are entirely right that in America, it can very easily be a trap with a catch 22 to get back out of that situation. And, as I mentioned in my original post, homelessness is a huge problem that is largely ignored, and that this is an excellent way of bringing a light on this uncomfortable problem. However, having had my OWN brush with homelessness, I would have to respectfully but firmly disagree with many of your basic assessments. I pulled myself out of that trap, because I wasn't willing to let myself remain in that lifestyle. Linus actively chooses that lifestyle, and that's your basic disconnect.

                    You are comparing Linus's situation to someone down on their luck and getting stuck 'in the system'. THERE IS NO SYSTEM TO GET STUCK IN at Pelican Town. Linus says repeatedly that this is his lifestyle choice. Even when he turns down the cabin, he explicitly states not that he can't afford it, or that he is worried about foreclosure or getting evicted... no, he complains because 'you don't understand my lifestyle'. His unsustainable lifestyle is his willing choice. He wasn't forced into it, he chose it.
                    • WilliamZ

                      WilliamZ Phantasmal Quasar

                      Well Linus depends from the bathhouse to keep himself warm in the winter, with is straight creepy to have a homeless dude at the doorstep of a bathhouse where woman's also uses. I'm not being rude but I doubt that it would be a place that you would happly go in and out in real life if you saw homeless people near the windows of the bathhouse. I think that all the arguments of Shneekey are right.
                      I believe that Linus is the only character that I think that is odd, I would love to chat with him in real life since he seems to be very knowledgeable, but he need to keep in mind that his actions reflects on the society, I never thought of why he isn't living in the woods, that would make a lot of more sense.
                      • pepoluan

                        pepoluan Star Wrangler

                        OP's meta is awesome and hits the nail on many parts. Some parts I mildly disagree, but just mildly and I do take the OP's point of view as valuable input to my own meta.

                        The imperfect characters of SDV -- including the Farmer's own imperfections -- lend itself well to something many game makers strive for: Emergent Storytelling.

                        The story of SDV is My Story, which will definitely be different from your story or from anyone else's.

                        And that's what makes this game so delightful, so enjoyable.

                        I haven't played SDV for some time, now I'm going to reset things and dump the mods and let 1.4 experience wash all over me again.

                        I haven't actually started the game yet, but somehow I got the feeling of coming back to a place I care about. And that's proof enough for me of how this game is amazing.

                        Many kudos to Concerned Ape, and to the wonderful community he had inadvertently started here.
                          WilliamZ likes this.
                        • ShneekeyTheLost

                          ShneekeyTheLost Black Hole Surfer

                          Well, since there was a request to continue with character analysis, let's do so! Let's look at another family unit... Penny and Pam. There's actually deeper waters here than some may be aware of, although the surface level tropes are pretty obviously identified. Pam's a drunken redneck trailer trash, Penny's a western schoolmarm who is a victim of abuse and is wanting to marry someone to get out of her bad domestic situation. And yea... that's definitely what is going on here, but there's also more to it than that, and more involved in their behavior patterns when you look beneath the surface. Those familiar with the 'Deep South' (that being defined as the region of the United States 'below the Mason-Dixon line') may already be familiar with what I'm covering here, but there's enough who probably aren't familiar with that culture that might miss quite a few things here. Specifically, there's plenty that I've heard from that were surprised that Penny went from zero to 'midnight bikini seduction' in the ten heart event, and didn't realize that Penny was all but throwing herself at you as early as the six heart event. So for those people... buckle up, because this is going to be a ride.

                          On first glance, Pam is your quintessential 'Redneck Trailer Trash', and... yea, she basically is. She's an alcoholic, verbally and emotionally abusive personality, depressed because her husband 'dun run off with some pretty thing' and left her with no visible means of support, which feeds the drinking and the abusive personality, and causes something of an emotional feedback loop. And until the bus gets fixed, there's very little chance that she'll ever pull herself out of that cycle of depression and addiction. This is... NOT uncommon in the 'deep south' of America, which is probably why there's tropes about it. She was stuck as a single mother with no real job skills out of her Commercial Driver's License. From some of her remarks, I'd be willing to bet that she was a trucker before she had Penny. However, the road is NOT a good place for a little kid, so her one job skill hit a dead end.

                          I'm not sure why Pelican Town let her come set up her trailer house in the first place. It's placed on some actually pretty nice real estate. Good neighbors, riverside... there aren't many towns that would have permitted an 'eyesore' like that to have been placed there. It would have been met with 'zoning restrictions' and 'building code' bureaucracy as a way of deterring it. Since there were comments that Pam drove the bus BEFORE it broke down, I can only assume that the bus was hers, she probably traded the truck rig for it, and made a deal with Mayor Lewis. And Mayor Lewis realized that even a small bus route would help out a small town like this enormously. It increases tourism, gives the locals more of a connection with the region... good deal all around, and so he was willing to look the other way when they dropped the trailer house (probably towed behind the bus) down.

                          You will notice a change in behavior in Pam when the bus does get repaired. Suddenly, she can't drink quite so much, because she's got to be sober and NOT hung over to drive. She still drinks, and drinks to escape and in excess, which is still not good, but she also limits her drinking because she's got a bus route to run. She becomes less pessimistic, less aggressive, and more personable. Part of her depression was worry about where her next meal (and next drink!) was coming from. Now she's GOT an income again. That's pretty huge for her mental and emotional health and well being.

                          When you get her an honest-to-goodness house... well, that's another formative event for her. Someone cared enough to spend a considerable sum to make one of her dreams come true. I mean... think about it a second. She probably grew up in a trailer park somewhere, ran off with her ex-husband, lived on the road, got pregnant, and got dumped. For someone like that, an actual house is a dream. People bag on the whole Leave It To Beaver style 1950's tickey-tack house with white picket fence, but that's the dream for most of the people stuck in trailer parks. She promises to drink less, and starts pulling herself out of her depression. A very positive note.

                          And what of her daughter? Well, there's a lot of tropes here as well, but there's also some local cultural implications that may be lost on those not familiar with the 'deep south' American culture, so I think that I may well need to tread on ground that some may already feel is belaboring the obvious. Let's start with her current position.

                          Penny is the classic 'Schoolmarm' (yes, there's an r in there, that's how it is pronounced) from your Western-flavored flicks. So while she is decidedly from a redneck family, she's not uneducated. She's at least got a diploma, and at least a teacher's certificate, if not an actual 4 year degree in Education. If Abigail can take courses by correspondence, there's no reason Penny can't as well. This was probably strongly encouraged by Pam, not wanting her daughter to 'make her mistakes'. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Pam quietly but forcefully pulled strings to make damn sure her daughter got that education. However, this is also a call to some of the less... socially appropriate... tropes that 'rednecks' in general have, a big one being 'a woman's place'. Which is probably one of the more toxic pieces of garbage to have come out of the Dark Ages. And the Deep South ended up leaning on it a bit too heavily. However, even in the Deep South, one of the few 'appropriate' (their concept, NOT mine) jobs for an educated woman to have is Teacher. And because Penny is doing this, instead of something 'rebellious' one can infer that Penny herself has traditional values, which also shapes her personality and reactions. Which explains her interactions with you once you get close enough to being a 'potential romantic interest' for her. So, let's unpack this, because there's probably more there than most people realize.

                          I'd also like to point out that in virtually every festival, Penny can be found with Robin's family, generally hanging out with Maru. Robin probably sees what Pam is going through (having been dumped herself), and being the aggressively mothering personality who adopts stray kittens and kids alike, probably makes a place for Penny to 'get away' when Pam gets 'yanno... loud and angry'. She doesn't want to actively interfere, but has probably created a 'safe place' for Penny to escape to, should she need it. So Penny, growing up, also had an example of a healthy relationship dynamic and the fact that it doesn't have to be abusive. Also, probably because of her relationship with Maru, she's probably at least bi-curious, despite the extremely strong negative connotations to homosexuality that are prevalent in the Deep South. If Maru wasn't so completely Ace, she'd probably see Maru as an ideal marriage candidate and a way out of her problem. This is something CA probably added to add a level of verisimilitude to why Penny would react so positively and strongly to a female Farmer's attentions, despite the invoked stereotypes about rednecks that are about as homophobic as it is possible to be. It is little details like that which I really appreciate in a game like this. Because while he does lean on some of these tropes, he inverts others to make for a better overall society than is found in the real world.

                          First off, Penny is looking for an escape from her domestic situation. She's being mentally and emotionally abused at least (her four-heart scene), and I would NOT be surprised if Pam occasionally became physically abusive as well at times. Anyone who says that booze only hurts the drunk has NEVER met anyone who was a spouse, child, or friend of an alcoholic. And, with her very Deep South upbringing, which discourages woman from being important people in and of themselves but instead encourages them to 'find a man who can support you', sees your character as a way out of her problem. It is also a very strong cultural message that women should get married early and have lots of kids, a holdover from a bygone era where medicine was primitive and a lady was not likely to live past her thirties, and amplified by certain misogynistic cultural leanings that we won't be going into further detail here. So Penny, in her early twenties and still single, sees this as a problem to be corrected, even if it wasn't also her escape from Pam's abuse. Combined? She's culturally primed to jump into the arms of any Prince (or Princess) Charming who presents themselves as an option.

                          I will be using the pronoun 'he' for the Farmer because the tropes being invoked are traditionally heterosexual, in addition to its general use as a gender-agnostic pronoun in Deep South dialects and culture. Please do not take this to indicate acceptance or approval of this rather narrow worldview, it is simply easier to write 'he' rather than 'he/she' or some other attempt at remaining gender neutral or gender inclusive every time I refer to the Farmer.

                          Her only real marriage option up to the Farmer showing up is Sam. She'd probably have been inclined to chase Alex, if it wasn't for Haley's clear interest and likely firm discouragement. But Sam, while *possible*, isn't really *ideal* from her perspective. He still acts like a kid, has juvenile interests (such as forming a band), has no future with a dead-end minimum wage Joja-job, and while he does a good job of being a Big Brother, it's also pretty clear he's not that interested in a big family. He's also a bit lazy, with Jodi occasionally complaining about his need to do more housework.

                          Enter the Farmer. First off, from the Deep South cultural perspective, that's a title with a level of respect. a 'Man of the Earth' (or woman, in SDV), a good solid and dependable sort who isn't likely to get itchy feet and move, because they've invested in the farmland, which is both extremely valuable and not mobile. Which means the farmer is extremely unlikely to run off with some pretty thing and take off, as happened to both Pam and Robin. He might divorce her, but he at least won't run off on her. And very rapidly, the Farmer becomes probably the single richest individual in town, even in a very casual play-through, through 'honest hard work', which is something Penny respects. He's clearly not lazy, because no one lazy would be able to take an empty plot of land and turn it into a productive farm, he can support a large family with the wealth and produce that the farm produces, and the two-heart event shows that he's also a nice and gentle sort. And in the 4 heart event, the Farmer proves willing to help out with housework and also not overreact to Pam's verbal tirade. So, just by existing and playing the game, the Farmer pretty much checks off all her marriage tick-boxes. And so very rapidly, she 'sets her hat' for the Farmer, making her interest known if one is familiar with the Deep South and its culture. Even the apology letter resulting from the four heart event indicates that she hopes she didn't chase the Farmer off.

                          From the Six heart event onward, she's doing her best to announce her candidacy for marriage within the constraints of her cultural upbringing. Women are not supposed to be the ones asking people out, they are supposed to be the ones being asked out, however there's several ways a girl can let a fellow know that she's interested, although they may be too subtle for a guy to pick up on. Her six-heart event is the first fairly blatant 'I really like you as more than a friend' attempt. The saying in the Deep South goes: The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Cooking someone a meal in the Deep South is a pretty big deal, it generally means either you are family, or they would like for you to be family. Inviting your beau to a family dinner is a Big Step in a relationship. And personally cooking a beau a meal is a clear indication that her interest is more than merely casual. The implication is 'you know, if we do get married, I can do this for you regularly'. So already, from the six heart event, she's actively trying to get the Farmer's interest. And acceptance of the meal is also generally acceptance of the lady's deepened interests, hence why she reacts so positively to your approval of the dish even though it isn't really all that good (the implication being 'I like you enough to eat something distasteful to show you how much I am interested in you'), and why she is distressed if you turn it down.

                          Her eight heart event is another attempt to signal her interest in the Farmer as a permanent life partner, and even more strongly, by bringing up the topics of 'growing old' (Implied: 'growing old together') and Kids. In the Deep South, a young and unattached lady does not discuss the topic of kids with an equally unattached young man unless her plans for the relationship includes getting married. Because Good Girls don't do that (you know, that activity which can *result* in kids) before marriage. Also because of the mistaken belief that having a kid means the relationship is more stable, and he's less likely to leave her. Nevermind the fact that both Pam and Robin got dumped after having a kid, of course. That's the cultural baggage Penny is operating under. It's also something of a test, because one doesn't want kids if one is just wanting to fool around. So it's an attempt to see if he is 'serious' or is just wanting 'fun for the night'. Do note that she does this BEFORE she throws herself at you in her 10 heart event.

                          With a female Farmer, the reflexive impulses are going to be the same, even though biologically there is zero risk of kids resulting from any activities, which probably makes Penny feel it is even safer to do in an attempt to... well, let's be blunt... emotionally blackmail the Farmer into marrying her. After all, adoption from same-gender couples seems to be the norm in Stardew Valley, so there's no reason she can't marry a woman and still have a whole passel of kids. And so her dream of a house, white picket fence, plenty of kids, and someone who can support her is still realized, regardless of gender. CA has neatly sidestepped the heteronorm by giving Penny an out for possible bicurious tendencies, so it matters less to Penny what gender the person is, and more what sort of person they are and that they are able to support a family the size that Penny is wanting to have.

                          Now let's talk about one of the defining traits that Penny has... her insecurities. Growing up with an alcoholic and abusive mother, the fact that she's extremely insecure is probably inevitable. The soft-spoken girl who wears turtle-necks in the late spring and summer is a common trope of 'abuse victim' for a reason. In this case, however, her problem is that she wants out of her bad situation, and is willing to jump ship for almost any lifeboat at this point. Heck, she was eyeing Sam, or at least not discouraging his interest, even though they really aren't a good match for each other, and she knows it. So when the Farmer comes along, and shows him/herself to be a polite, kind, courteous, strong person who has a large property and is able to financially support a large family... well, Sam's little more than an afterthought at this point. However, she's also afraid that the Farmer will not see her as an equal match, because she has very low self esteem and low self confidence. She's painfully shy and reserved in social settings until you start to pry her out of her shell, because she's constantly wary of abuse. And she 'knows', on some level, that she is 'damaged goods', another common psychological problem with abuse victims. So while she sees the Farmer as the ideal match, she's very afraid that the Farmer won't see her in the same light. She doesn't perceive much self-worth, she sees other girls in town, like Haley and her perfectly manicured fashionista appearance, and doesn't think she can compete. This is both why she is so quiet and reserved when you first meet her, and why she becomes extremely forward (at least from her cultural standards) fairly rapidly. And it is why her 10 heart event is... what it is. She's tried hinting, she's tried being (from her cultural upbringing) blunt, now she's almost desperate to get you to 'tie the knot'. This, again, from the culture that brought the concept of the 'shotgun wedding'.

                          Even her brand new 14 heart event calls out to her continued insecurities. You're married, she's got her 'happily ever after', but she's still afraid you might become disinterested in her. So she's trying very hard, too hard, to be the 'dutiful wife', because it's the only thing she feels she can contribute. She still seeks approval from her spouse, and expects it from her redecoration attempt. She asks for your input, and does something big for your Farmer in the hopes that it will be appreciated. Her wants, needs, and desires are not even discussed here. This... isn't healthy, from a relationship stability perspective, if for no other reason than it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where her desperation to keep him is what actually drives him away. But it is extremely in-character for a lady of her upbringing.

                          These characters also have realistic character flaws based on their backstory. Pam fell into the bottle as a single mother with no means of supporting her kid after her husband ran off after a presumably 'prettier' gal, and quickly started up the addiction and depression cycle. Penny, being the victim of Pam's abuse, is fearful and timid, but is also culturally primed to see marriage as a way out of her domestic situation, and also culturally primed to see the Farmer as the ideal life partner. And so she starts hinting, with those hints growing less and less subtle, that she would not mind in the least if the Farmer would sweep her off of her feet and into the farmhouse on a permanent basis. Ending with the rather famous ten heart scene, one of the spiciest scenes in the entire game. But there's reasons why they act the way they do. Pam can experience some actual character growth, from her initial drunken abusive redneck stereotype to an actually productive member of town. She dials back her drinking once the bus gets fixed, and dials it back further when you buy her the house. Penny doesn't really see much character *growth* so much as a 'happily ever after'. Being married to the farmer, who is able to support her and a large family, and willing to have said large family, is as close to dream realization and wish fulfillment as she is ever likely to get in her whole life. If anything, it seems 'too good to be true' for her, which is why she remains uncertain and insecure in her new life. Which is a very realistic and all too common reaction a victim of abuse has when they finally find themselves in a stable relationship.

                          And most importantly, their character flaws, and especially Pam's character development which stems from those flaws, are key in how the story of Stardew Valley progresses. If Stardew Valley has an overarching plot, it is the Community Center (or, alternately, the Joja Route). And one of the big story beats of the Community Center is that the community as a whole benefits from you completing the bundles in very tangible ways. The bus getting repaired is a major positive story beat for the whole town, and especially for Pam. You see the positive difference that your actions have personally made in Pam's life, by giving her purpose and helping her fight off her depression and alcoholism. This is a tangible result that you working with your little Junimo friends (or the soulless JojaCorp) provides to Pam personally and the town in general, and it would not have had the same emotional impact if Pam hadn't been in such a bad place to begin with, or if someone else was the bus driver and Pam kept being an abusive drunken redneck. For there to be a high point, there must be a low point to compare it to. And it is in part Pam's low point that makes this bundle completion such a satisfying high point.
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