Video games are very good at teaching, even if they have to repeat the lesson over and over. Sometimes the lesson is “don’t fall into that bottomless pit.” Other times it’s “she’s just not that into you.”
Last Friday I predicted I’d be playing a lot of Fire Emblem Fates and Far Cry Primal over the weekend. I was completely wrong. On Saturday morning I started playing the new PC life sim Stardew Valley, and I didn’t really stop until late Sunday night.
Stardew Valley is the hot new sensation tearing up the Steam charts. It’s a Harvest Moon-like life sim where, in addition to farming, crafting, secret-hunting and dungeon-crawling (!), you can romance any of the ten bachelors and 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.
“Rowr,” I thought. “I will win your heart through the time-tested practice 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 realize 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 realized 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 of all, 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 realized: 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 likable, 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
Here at Kotaku, I edit our biweekly Ask Dr. NerdLove advice column. I found myself imagining what it’d look like if my Stardew Valley character wrote the Doc for advice.
You gotta help me! I have a crush on this girl, but lately she’s been acting like I don’t exist. She’s the prettiest girl in our town, and I felt this major connection with her the first time we met. She’s so cute and funny, and we really seemed to hit it off. We’d hang out and have fun, and I’d always go and get her gifts and stuff. I figured she knew I was into her, since I felt like I was being pretty obvious about it, but I never got more than a “just friends” vibe from her.
In fact, sometimes she’s kinda rude to me? I figure she’s usually just kidding around, but it hurts. She’ll make fun of my clothes, and one time I asked her to dance with me at the big town festival and she said “No” in front of everyone. I wound up standing in the corner alone. Other times she talks about this Alex guy, and even though I know they’ve known each other for a long time and I don’t think there’s anything going on, I don’t know. I can’t help but feel hurt and ignored.
What should I do, Doc? Is this a lost cause? Is there some way I can up my game? Help!
- Confused in Pelican Town
Now, I can’t speak for the actual Dr. NerdLove, but I’ve been working with Harris long enough that I can imagine his response. It’d probably be something along the lines of “CIPT, I’m only gonna say this once: Run for your life.”
He’d probably elaborate on how Haley has been telling me in a dozen different ways that she isn’t interested. He’d mention the fact that she never shows any interest in or real kindness toward me, and would say that her rejection at the dance just made explicit what had already been implicit.
He’d likely say, “Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is
enemy action a complete lack of interest in you.” He’d also probably say something about how she’s self-selecting out of my dating pool, which in the end is a good thing. Then he’d tell me to expand my social circle, start making other friends in town, and stop fixating on this one person.
(The Dr. NerdLove who lives in my head is a very helpful guy.)
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 realization 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 center 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...