I’ve recently gotten back into Stardew Valley, a Harvest Moon-inspired farm simulation game with a 16-bit aesthetic. It’s not necessary that you be familiar or interested in the game for you to join me in this journey of overanalysis. The only background information you really need is that Stardew Valley is set in a fictional location that experiences the same four seasons as Earth—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—with the major difference that each season lasts one 28-day month.
While contemplating the idyllic setting and letting my mind wander, I wondered where the game creator envisioned a place like Stardew Valley existing. I daydreamed of somewhere like Maine or New Zealand, which I knew was foolish. Surely the developer didn’t want it to feel that specific.
Then the in-game seasons drifted into my mind like a man-of-war approaching a doomed Galleon. The implication of the four season sprint splintered my previous conception of the setting. Each season runs its course in one month. Each year is four months. Not even full months: four Februarys. Each year in the game lasts 112 days. There is only one conclusion to draw.
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s a video game; you can’t play for an actual year.” Yes, video games must condense time. That’s why days in the game take 14 minutes of real time. But the number of days and months aren’t condensed to give the feel of weeks, months, and seasons. A game that makes you water individual plants surely wouldn’t have qualms about stretching out the year a bit. The game’s hook is life in a slower paced town. A four month year is not meant to imply an earth year.
Well, now I want to know what’s going on with this dang planet. Why are the years so short? I’ve got some theories.
I’m no astronomologist, so I cannot speak to the likelihood of this, but maybe Stardew Valley’s planet tilts towards and away from its sun multiple times within one orbit. This would allow for a longer orbit and short seasons. That would mean that there are multiple summers, springs, winters, and falls within one planetary year (I’m making up terms, bear with me). But the inhabitants’ calendar reflects a year based on the seasons. Are there planets that tilt more frequently than we’re used to here on Earth? I have no idea, nor do I even know how to phrase the question in order to conduct an internet search. Seems unlikely.
Maybe Stardew Valley’s planet behaves more like those of our own solar system. One time through the seasons coincides with one full orbit around its sun. That would mean it has a short orbit. Mercury takes 88 days to go around the sun, so Stardew’s planet would either be slightly farther away or moving more slowly.
Since there is snow in the winter, whatever star that the planet orbits must be cooler than our sun. Unless we want to consider that Stardew’s planet is orbiting a star similar in size to our own and whipping around it at a breakneck speed. I don’t want to consider that possibility. I don’t imagine such an orbit is sustainable. Tiny star it is!
This video game that with seasons like ours, humans, farm animals exactly those we know, wizards, mummies, and cave monsters is set on a planet elsewhere in the universe. A fictional setting is even more fictional that it appears on first blush. There is no larger truth to be taken from this. If there were, it wouldn’t count as overthinking it.