One of my favorite games is Stardew Valley, partly because it accommodates many different motivations for gameplay. I truly believe one could play Stardew seeking any of the eight aesthetics, but today I’ll be talking about the mechanics and dynamics that inform my oft-sought-out experience of challenge and discovery.
By completing arbitrary missions in Stardew, you can unlock new items to craft, places to go, or more effective items to expand your slow and steady exploration of the valley and adjacent lands. The arbitrary missions I am referencing are part of completing the community center, which requires donating fixed items of certain quantities, which you obtain through the process of developing the five general skills: farming, mining, foraging, fishing, and combat. As you slowly gain experience points and level up in these skills, you also gain new crafting knowledge and increased efficiency in that area. Thus, you can strategically spread out your efforts to make the quickest progress to completing the community center, which then unlocks two new places: Calico Desert and Ginger Island.
However, Stardew isn’t just as easy as free building and exploring. There are mechanics that provide tension, such as a limited amount of energy or health you have per day to accomplish your tasks, or needing to earn money to fund your progress. Some donation items for the community center can only be obtained in certain seasons. Other items just take some luck, which could affect the quantity of wood you forage from a tree on any given day, or different items altogether in the case of gems. For me, as a player who tries to get faster at completing the community center every run, these challenges make it thrilling to finish despite the limitations. That’s how I get my fix of challenge/discovery.