Why Play… ‘Stardew Valley’

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Welcome to Stardew Valley, a quiet little town isolated from the rest of the world. When your grandfather passes away and leaves you his farm in his will, you pack your bags and begin a new life away from the hubbub of the commercial world to learn what it takes to become a farmer.

With the option to create your own items out of the resources you have collected, Stardew Valley is more than an homage to Harvest Moon.  It takes what made Harvest Moon such a success and adds a factor that minecraft players would find familiar. Additionally, the game also incorporates a level up system for each different skill the player may use on and around their farm such as farming, foraging and fishing. With each level the player will find using those skills easier to use and ultimately will discover that a good farmer uses each and every one of these skills in order to maximise their daily success.

However, it isn’t the game mechanics that make the game such fun to play but the relaxation that the game provides. This quaint little town that holds its own secrets, villagers with their own unique personalities and backstories and the bright 8bit pixels all create a tranquil charm to get immersed in. Most importantly, the game’s music also ties in a warm calming atmosphere that changes with each passing season.

Despite the soothing tone though lies a darker realism to the game. As you play through your first year as a farmer and start making friends with your neighbours, you realise things are not at happy as they seem. Through a number of cut scenes brought about by filling up villager’s friend meter, the game begins to explore a number of adult themes such as alcoholism, depression and PTSD.

Moreover, Stardew Valley also holds a negative view of the free market seen between Pierre’s general Store and the JoJa Mart; the freedom to choose where to shop has a tendency for major corporations, with the money to sell items cheaper, to end up monopolising the market and forcing their competitors to go out of business. Yet, the player does have the option to ignore the evidently exploitative nature of JoJa Corp and have a different experience to the game by buying a membership card from the Hypermarket.

The success of Stardew Valley is in the fact that it doesn’t force the player to do any specific job they don’t want to. Instead it allows us to play the game as we like. Whether it be to get rich, make friends or discover the secrets of the valley, the player will find themselves immersed in a small town and its community that one can’t help but wish existed in order to get away from our hectic lives. Stardew Valley is proof that sometimes the simplest things in life can turn out to be the best.

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5 Most Emotional Book Character Deaths

Simon (Lord of the Flies – William Golding)

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A book about how a group of young boys would cope on a deserted island without parental supervision, Golding’s classic delves into the innate evil that lurks in everyone’s soul. Without societal authority, in this case parents, the young boys slowly digress into animalistic creatures with no sense of morality. The only characters who don’t allow themselves to become savages are Ralph, Piggy and Simon. It is the death of Simon which arguably begins all the children’s descent into savages as he is massacred by all the boys on the island who are too caught up in taking part in a tribal ‘hunt-dance’ to realise that the beast they are attacking is Simon. It is a tear-jerking moment as the only reason he got killed was for trying to tell the others that there is no beast. The only beast is savagery. In this sense, the ‘beast’ kills Simon before he can tell the others. As with all of the deaths in The Lord of the Flies, Simon’s death represents the loss of something, in his case it is truth, innocence, and common sense. His violent death is juxtaposed with the description of his body’s final resting place is depicted as beautiful; his body is gently picked up from the beach by the tide and calmly pulled out to sea with luminescent fish and plants lighting the area, adding to the horrific nature of the children actions compared to the nature of the island.

The Banderbear (Beyond the Deepwoods – Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell)

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While making his way through the Deepwoods, Twig, the protagonist, encountered the banderbear; (an enormous, hairy, tusked bear-like creature). Although fearsome in appearance, the banderbear was shy, timid and friendly; after Twig helped him with his toothache by pulling the rotten tooth out, the two became good friends and travelled through the Deepwoods together. However, the friendship was not to last when a group of wig-wigs (small, orange, fluffy creatures which act like piranhas) decided to hunt both Twig and the unnamed banderbear. Knowing that the wig-wigs would eventually catch up with them, the banderbear decided to lift Twig into a nearby tree to put him out of the wig-wig’s reach. In doing so, the wig-wigs were able to catch up with him and devour him in front of Twig. His last words were ‘T-wuh-g…Fr-uh-nz’. Perhaps not as emotional as it may sound, the book was advertised for 8 – 12 years and in such has always remained locked in my mind as one of the most traumatic deaths I have read.

Arran Harper (The Enemy – Charlie Higson)

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Set in a post-apocalyptic world where anyone over the age of 14 turn into cannibalistic zombies, it goes without saying that a lot of children die within the book. However, Arran’s death is the saddest and also the most surprising. Set out as the protagonist, it comes as a shock that he dies on the way to Buckingham Palace, early on in the book. He was the leader of the Waitrose survivors (children who have set up base inside a Waitrose) but early on gets bitten by a zombie that bared a striking resemblance to his mother at a swimming pool while serving as one of the scavenger party looking for food. However, the bite does not kill him but does begin to get infected, causing him to become ill and delirious. Nonetheless, the reader assumes that since he is the main character and it is still early in the book that he will survive or at least die near the end. His death comes when the children are ambushed by a group of zombies led by a smart zombie named St George at Camden. Having won the actual battle, the zombies retreat and Arran gives chase only to get shot with an arrow in the chest by another survivor; Sophie. In the confusion of the zombies running away in her direction, she mistook Arran as one. With such severe injuries, he dies there surrounded by the Waitrose crew, his last words are “I love you, Mom” reminding us that he was just a child.

The Unnamed Father (The Road – Cormac McCarthy)

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Another post-apocalyptic novel, The Road follows an unnamed father and his son on their journey to head south to survive the oncoming winter. With the constant threat of attack from cannibals, exposure, and starvation the father is constantly trying to prepare his son for the time when he will no longer be there to protect him. The father’s death comes after their journey to the sea where he has been shot with an arrow and realises that he will die soon. In an attempt to reassure his son the father tells the boy that he can continue to speak with him through prayer after he is gone. With the boy pleading for his father not to leave him, it is hard not to get a lump in your throat. Additionally, with the son unsure where to go now that his father has passed away, we feel a responsibility for this child to remain safe. That feeling is left shaken when a man who claims he has been tracking the pair convinces the boy that he is one of the “good guys” and takes him under his protection. With a sense of uncertainty as to whether the boy is safe, the reader feels powerless and even more depressed.

Brom Holcombsson (Eragon – Christopher Paolini)

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Ever since Eragon had to escape his home town of Carvahall with his dragon because the Evil lord Galbatorix felt threatened that he would overthrow him, Brom has been by his side, fighting and teaching him things such as the use of the magical powers bestowed upon a Dragon Rider and the art of swordsmanship, as well as teaching him how to read. When attempting to destroy the Ra’zac (an ancient race that feeds on humans as well as Galbatorix’s servants), the heroes are ambushed and attempt to escape. However, while escaping one of the Ra’zac threw a dagger at Eragon, but Brom moved into its path in order to save Eragon but leaves him mortally wounded. Before passing away, Brom confesses his past to Eragon claiming that he was once a dragon rider himself before his dragon was killed and he went into hiding as a storyteller in Carvahall. In order to give Brom a proper burial, Eragon created a tomb out of sandstone which Saphira turned to diamond with her magic in order to preserve his honour forever. Although sad, the death of Brom constantly hits home throughout the saga as more secrets that he kept are revealed such as Eragon’s parentage and the truth behind his sword Zar’roc.

5 Most Emotional Video Game Character Deaths

Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII)

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Originally released in 1997, she has one of the most recognised video game deaths of all time, showing just how emotional her demise truly is. She was a temporary playable character before leaving the party and later is found praying at an altar. However, the chance encounter is short lived as the moment she recognises Cloud Strife she is stabbed through the chest by the antagonist Sephiroth in front of their eyes. It is only revealed that she was killed because she was the only one to protect the planet from Sephiroth’s plan to use the ultimate destructive magic; Meteor. She succeeded in summoning the power of Holy just before her death. The scene is made more emotional when Cloud takes her body out into the lake in order to return her to the planet’s life force. In doing so, Aerith not only lives on through the planet ultimately enforcing the planet’s life stream against Sephiroth’s Meteor but also within our hearts as a purely beautiful tribute to her life.

Thane Krios (Mass Effect 2 & 3)

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If you kept him alive through Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission then his death is even more so emotional. Sure you knew he was dying from Kepral’s syndrome since the very beginning but that doesn’t soften the loss of the religious drell assassin. While helping fight off the Cerberus attack on the Citadel, Thane is stabbed through the stomach by Kai Leng, an assassin sent to kill the Salarian councillor. Due to complications concerning his illness though he is told that he will die soon. Shepard can visit him in the Hospital where he will be joined by Thane’s son Kolyat. In this scene Shepard can join in a prayer Kolyat and Thane are reciting, it is only afterwards that the prayer was intended for Shepard and not Thane. Despite his violent and immoral job, Thane asks for forgiveness for each kill showing a sense of mercy which makes his death perfect for his deeply spiritual character as he dies surrounded by his family and friends with few regrets. The truth that Thane accepts his death only adds to the effect his death has on the audience. So much so that you can’t help but feel that justice has been served when Shepard stabs Kai-Leng with the omni-blade stating “that was for Thane, you son of a bitch”.

Angus “Grim” Grimaldi (Tomb Raider)

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Grimaldi is the helmsman of the expedition ship Lara was part of, The Endurance before its ultimate destruction by the supernatural storm. Using the skills he learnt while living in Gorbals, he manages to escape the clutches of the Solarii Brotherhood and find Lara. However, just as he does, the brotherhood catch up with him and attempt to use him as a hostage to get Lara to surrender. A man unwilling to be used as a hostage he lunges himself off the edge, falling to his untimely death but taking a number of Solarii men with him. Although his death is sad what truly made his death so emotional for me was that I was certain that he would turn against me at some point. Instead though, he was genuinely one of the most selfless characters in the game; going as far as to sacrifice his own life in the chance that Lara will survive just for a tiny bit longer and free the rest of her crew.

Cortana (Halo 4)

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She has been by your side throughout the entire Master Chief franchise, the artificial intelligence has assisted you with your objectives from the beginning and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for her as evident when she begins to malfunction. With no way to fix her AI issues she sacrifices herself in order to save you from the Didact by fragmenting her various personalities and uploading them into its computer; basically tearing herself apart. Although she is an AI and can therefore be replaced with one exactly the same, she won’t be the same Cortana we know and love. What truly makes her sacrifice even more moving is how she uses the last of her energy to manifest as a solid hologram in order to say her final goodbye to Master Chief but also to actually physically touch him for the very first time. My only comfort is that although she hasn’t a blue, humanoid figure, I can always find Cortana on my Windows Phone.

Serah Farron (Final Fantasy 13-2)

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A victim of fate, Serah Farron was at the wrong place at the wrong time; finding a door that lead into the Bodhum Vestige she was chosen by the Pulse fal’Cie, Anima, to become a l’Cie (a person cursed to fulfil a focus or become a monster). As if this wasn’t cruel enough, Serah was later chosen by her sister Lightning to help save the world from being destroyed by a man named Caius Ballad. With the new and sudden ability to glimpse into the future and the fact that every time the timeline is changed, the resulting shock may kill her, Serah and her friend Noel Kreiss persevere and ultimately defeats Caius. However, by changing the present so extremely the future is changed dramatically resulting in Serah’s death. Her sacrifice hits home as she has been the protagonist throughout the game and, unlike other games that result in the protagonist’s death’ Serah’s death takes place after the final battle when everything seems to be fixed. Noel’s desperate yet futile attempts to prevent Serah from seeing the future thus stopping her from dying and the happy music that plays (Charice New World) adds to the emotional impact of her death with her final words ringing in our ears ‘It’s the end of our journey…Thank You’

Taking the Bull-y by the Horns: Tackling Abuse in School

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We have all been bullied in our lives, whether it has been through being teasing, abusive language or actual physical attacks. As much as we wish that the world has changed, it hasn’t much altered in relation to the school playground. Children are still being bullied today. But bullying doesn’t stop there. The name calling stops but the scars left by it can remain for years after; bullying from our past may even affect us today.

In secondary school I was bullied by a group who found it funny to spit on me which led me to gain an anxiety towards saliva; I found it difficult to use the same straw as anyone else when sharing a drink. It took approximately 5 years to overcome this. Another bully I suffered from was more the traditional verbally abusive one who, after school, began dating a close friend of mine. He has no recollection or is simply unapologetic as to what he did to me for 3 years of my life. My friend and him are now engaged with one another which unfortunately has made our friendship slowly dissipate as I don’t feel comfortable being around him. Despite the bullying I suffered from, I was lucky that I was never picked on for my sexuality which so many have been and still are; approximately 25% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and university employees have been harassed due to their sexual orientation. It is no surprise then that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have a higher rate of suicide attempts than to heterosexual youth with such famous cases being of Jamey Rodemeyer and Jadin Bell and the creation of the It Gets Better Foundation. However, it is not just gay teens that have been bullied to the extent that they feel their only way out is to commit suicide for example Megan Meier and Amanda Toddboth took their own lives due to the amount of bullying they were subjected to online.

With almost 45,000 children talking to ChildLine about bullying last year and the fact that many children tend to suffer in silence, bullying in schools is a serious issue. It has only gotten worse since the introduction of anonymous messaging on internet sites such as ask.fm. Bullying is not just seen in the playground but on our phones and computers; there is little escape from the harassment. Figures claim that online bullying has risen by a startling 87 per cent in 2012 so it is essential that children know that they are never alone. Bullying may never cease to exist as it is only natural for humanity to set up a social hierarchy whereby those who bully others are top of the pyramid similar to the ideology behind Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Our culture is obsessed with power over others and violence is a primitive response to achieve it. Our only chance to stay strong, find ways to reduce the impact it has on us, remember that all of us have dealt with our own bullies and rejoice in the fact that we have overcome the ordeals they put through. And if we haven’t yet?  Promise ourselves we will be more successful in life than they will be and forgive them. The world already has too much hate in it to hold a grudge.

(Be aware that there are scenes of self-harm some people may find disturbing near the end)

Confessions of a Graduate – Replacing your Dissertation with the Dishes

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Growing up is hard. Age and experience seemingly go hand in hand yet no one discusses how they can also rub against one another like a new shoe one size too small on the back of a heel. The end of our university lives is one such moment which can twist and corrupt the link between what we have experienced as independent adults living in a scummy university residency and returning back ‘home’ with the parents.

You begin the first year of university life as a scared child who spends half that year feeling uncontrollably homesick scared of the change of surroundings (something I assume devout Conservatives feel concerning British Politics and society).   You find yourself constantly reminded that you are just one phone call away from returning back home to the safety of the room you once called yours for almost two decades. However, as you get used to the surroundings and grow more confident in yourself, university life doesn’t seem so…BIG! Before you know it you have made friends that aren’t just the ‘acquaintances’ you were thrown into student halls with; they are your uni family.

Soon enough though your degree comes to an end, your friends all go their separate ways and you find yourself returning back home to that room you spent so much of your life in. Granted you have returned to it several times before during university holidays yet something is different this time. The walls seem closer, the atmosphere seems less welcoming, the things you held so dear in there feel like they belong to a different person now. You have outgrown this room. To step one foot back inside feels like relinquishing all freedom and responsibility you held for three years. The sense of regressing to a time before university lays alert in the back of your mind, reminding you that this house is not home, it is a cell. You must get out! You must escape! You need your freedom and your only chance for this is getting a job.

Now sitting in my old room on my bed surrounded by the memorabilia of my childhood and pictures of my uni family and I on Facebook, it dawns on me that I am wrong about the whole situation. This room is not my prison. Sure, I may not be employed right now perhaps in part due to being over qualified for any jobs in my home town. There is the risk that I will leave as soon as a graduate position opens up somewhere else (which in all honesty is probably true) but with employment comes a lack of freedom as well. Granted, I must live under my parent’s rule and do things as they wish them to be done but they are my family. The key is to remain positive. After all, I must remember that, although it feels like I have reverted back to childhood, I have already grown from that small, insecure boy taking his first steps into Portsmouth’s James Watson Halls into the man you see before you and he refuses to give up.

NT Live: ‘Medea’

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Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. That is most definitely the case as Helen McCrory takes the stage in Ben Power’s adaptation of Euripides classic play Medea. It is an age old story that has been adapted for centuries yet still resonates in our society today. The tragedy follows a single mother coping with the loss of her unfaithful husband by attempting to get revenge on him. It explores what happens when the loathing of someone is stronger than the love for your own children so much so that it brings to light a taboo that no one wants to accept happens; mothers murdering their own children.

With such a disturbing narrative, the play’s disconcerting atmosphere is intensified through the use of the scenery most significantly a fog ridden forest. However what truly exemplifies the tragedy is the chilling performance given by the cast members. McCrory’s regal persona strongly emphasises Medea’s royal connection to the king of Colchis and adds an emotional ferocity to the character in which her exile from her own father and country and the abandonment of her husband; Jason (of the Argonauts) causes her ultimate destruction. Of course, we expect nothing less from McCrory since she began her career inside the National Theatre’s very own walls.

Power’s adaptation adds a tremendously powerful depth to the play with help from Gregory and Goldfrapp’s musical scores. With the use of a repetitive, piano tune throughout (first played by one of Medea’s ultimately doomed children) the 1 hour 30 minute tragedy keeps the audience tense throughout. Additionally the use of choir music at extremely important and disturbing moments adds to an already intensive hair-raising atmosphere which emanates the grandness of certain acts taken. This is also seen clearly when coupled with the disturbing dance-like twitchy movements the Greek chorus named the women of Corinth use when the play nears its dramatic finale as if to represent Medea’s own frantic and unsettling frame of mind.

Power has seamlessly placed this ancient Greek play into modernity and has also expertly kept the tragedy intact as to leave the entire audience disturbed by the scenes that have just took place in front of them. Yet what is most magnificent about this National Theatre performance is that it not only parallels with nowadays but also the decade long scholarly debate surrounding Euripides’ tragedy by allowing the audience to decide who is to blame for the finale. It leaves the viewer unsure as to who to actually feel sorry for since ‘terrible things breed in broken hearts’.

Feeling as empty as my Closet: ‘Outing’ Post-Coming out Depression

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One subject that exists in the shadows of publicised LGBT issues is post-coming out depression. Perhaps, just like any other form of depression, it is thought that, by simply accepting its existence tempts the Gods to inflict you with it like a curse. However, the truth is with nearly a fifth of adults in the UK suffering from some form of anxiety or depression, it is a common mental illness that can be helped if we stop the stigma that is put upon it. If we did, the depression some feel after coming out might be better known.

It is always suggested by everyone that by coming out to your friends, family and colleagues you will feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders and I do not disagree with that but nobody mentions how you might also feel after. Coming out is a big change as well as an important writ of passage so it would be glib to suggest people won’t feel a little odd afterwards and this ‘oddness’ might cause them to become depressed. I for one naively believed that by coming out, my life would alter completely; I believed that I would instantly find a man with a body that would make Adonis jealous, I’d automatically be more funny, witty and confident in myself and I would be hosting wild soirees surrounded by other immediate gay and lesbian friends. Obviously this was not the case.

Despite the amazing support I received from everyone I told, I felt like my life was lacking something. Nothing had drastically changed and life continued the way it always had other than the sense of freedom I had gained from escaping the closet door. Yet, it was this freedom that had made me depressed. By being honest about my sexuality I had opened up the flood gates into a much more authentic yet vulnerable world that felt too vast compared to the safe bubble I had now physically popped with three words; ‘I like guys’. Since my expectations of coming out had been too high I started to see myself as a failure.  I entered a rather distressing state which led me to a place I would not wish upon anyone. I could not understand why, after coming out, I was still single. I had significantly altered my life yet still felt alone. Luckily, I found help before it was too late but it is saddening to know that others have taken their own lives because of the same problem.

I cannot express how important it is to know that although coming out is a major stepping stone to a better future for homosexuals and bisexuals; it is not an automatic change. Although not everyone will suffer from post-coming out depression, there is a small chance that someone will. Since coming out is such a big deal, after it has happened, there is a void where so much worry and stress had been and it can be filled with a sense of nothingness. You are not alone, let things come at their own time and the emptiness of closet with you outside it will fill once more with a sense of belonging and happiness as you adapt to your new surroundings as an openly gay man or woman. It might not lead to a new you but an honest you.