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 Comic Book Characters that have Come Out

Renee Montoya – Gotham Central #6-10

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Although she was technically publically ‘outed’ and we don’t actually see Renee come out to her parents, Montoya coming out to her parents is an important moment of LGBT issues in comic books. The experience turns out not to be the greatest one, however what makes this so significant is actually the pure emotion it portrays and not the act.

Before she does so there is a scene where she is asked by her brother why she wants to tell their parents as it will only make them ‘suffer’ and she defends herself by telling him that being a lesbian is part of her and that she refuses to lie to them anymore. This is made even more symbolic by the way she repeatedly shifts between speaking English and Spanish. The Spanish represents her heritage or identity whereas the English represents her ability to conform or seem ‘ordinary’ to everyone else in Gotham as well as the reader. This automatically can be paralleled with her hidden lesbian identity in relation to the heteronormative façade she portrays.

After coming out to her parents we are presented with her experience of how it went. Already aware that her parents will most likely not take her coming out to them well, we feel Renee’s pain and sense of loss the moment she tells her girlfriend what happened. Her mother’s extreme religious view towards her own daughter is heartbreaking yet depressingly realistic to some people’s own experiences with coming out to their parents. What adds to this heart crushing scene is when Renee breaks down into tears; until this moment Montoya has been portrayed as a hard faced cop who hasn’t let anyone get to her including her homophobic colleagues. The gritty realism of Renee Montoya’s coming out not only sheds light on homophobia in the workplace but also homophobia in strict religious households where the hate of homosexuality can overpower the love of a child.

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Iceman – Uncanny X-Men #600 (present drake) & All-New X-Men #40 (past drake)

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With the LGBT connotations that can be easily made between homosexuality and the struggles the x-men face in the comics, it would have been remiss not to have mentioned an x-man in this list. Not only is it an x-man but it is one of the first; Iceman, however his coming out is one of the most complicated due to time travel. In short, there are two versions of iceman; one from the past and one from the present.

The past Bobby Drake (Iceman) is 1st outed by Jean Grey through telepathy who questions him as to why he acts overly straight when she knows he is gay. Attempting to deny his sexuality, she confronts him with his own thoughts. In this sense, Jean Grey allows the past Iceman to truly be honest with himself.

Later on, the past version of Iceman confronts his present self over his discovery of himself and questions him why he hasn’t come out yet. The present Iceman repeats the same reason his younger self gave that he is scared of having to deal with being both a mutant and gay and one is easier to hide than the other. Again, this ‘coming out’ creates something that one battles with mentally into something physical, the past Iceman representing his honest self and the present Iceman representing the straight façade that a lot of gay people put on before coming out.

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The Pied Piper – The Flash #53

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This scene is given a strong impact as it is actually the first opening pages of the Fast Friends story line. It is brought about by a discussion between The Flash and the newly reformed Pied Piper talking about the rumours that the Joker being gay is true or not. The Flash naively states that there are telling features before Pied Piper claims that he can’t think of any villains that are homosexual other than himself. This automatically counters the Flash’s idea of the gay stereotype and ultimately breaks down the stereotype and stigma behind being gay with the suggestion that homosexuality isn’t evil.

Although The Flash is taken aback by the Pied Piper’s revelation and appears to leave him standing on the rooftop alone straight after, his coming out is handled very well. The Pied Piper’s coming out scene accepts that sometimes it can be an awkward situation to have however; it portrays Piper as being comfortable in his sexuality, stating his sexual orientation in a matter of fact way. Most importantly, DC doesn’t define the character by his sexuality but more his coming out is an addition to his character already.

Northstar – Alpha Flight #106

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Perhaps the most influential of all these gay comic book characters, Alpha Flight’s Northstar’s coming out is pretty blunt. However, what it makes up for in frankness it makes up for in pure bravery.

After adopting an abandoned baby girl born with AIDs who dies a few weeks later, Northstar uses his fame as a superhero and Olympic medal winner to publicly announce that his is gay in order to give media attention to HIV and how to prevent it. Although not a disease that only affects gay men, it was considered at the time of his coming out as one. Additionally, Northstar’s coming out was also Marvel’s first attempt at introducing a gay superhero into the universe, completely disregarding any trace of of the Comics Code Authority having ever prevented homosexuality from being discussed in comic books. Moreover Northstar also became the first X-Men to have a gay wedding showing that Northstar is a significant character in discussing gay rights in the Marvel universe.

By saying ‘I am gay’, Northstar not only represents how coming out can feel like you are being judged by everyone but also it gives hope that by coming out you can not only help yourself but help others around you; whether that be them going through the same feelings as you have or in some other way.

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Anole – New Mutants vol. 2

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Not an actual representation of coming out but one that would have made a big impact if it had gone ahead. There were plans for the Marvel writers to give Anole a coming out scene where his family and friends are horrified by his sexuality and ultimately reject him entirely. This would have lead Anole to have committed suicide. It would have been interesting to have seen the repercussions of such a negative experience of coming out as it would have drawn light on the gay teen suicide rate. However, by scrapping these plans, Marvel have still given Anole an important role in LGBT comic book history as he has slowly become recognised as a gay character who is comfortable in his own sexuality and at times has helped others around him come to terms with their own as well as shed light on some of the other experiences that the LGBT community have had.

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Confessions of a Graduate – Forever Friends? The Difficulty of Keeping in Touch

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Remember when you wanted to see a friend in univrsity; all you had to do was pick up the phone and arrange to meet up that day? After uni that becomes much harder. Like some cliché narrative, after graduation you all go your separate ways; you all move back home, find jobs (if you are lucky) and make new friends or reconnect with pre-university pals and somewhere along the way you slowly merge yourself into a new/old friend group. However, you don’t forget your university buds and you promise yourself to make more an effort to meet up with them no matter how far apart you may be but to no avail due to work commitments or financial troubles.

The truth is that you don’t realise just how amazing those friends are until the possibility to meet back up with them is made more difficult. Memories of explaining what Barthes truly meant by ‘Death of the Author’ to each other around the kitchen table or playing board games with all your university chums under one roof brings a smile to your face. Nostalgic recollections to remind you just how amazing an experience university was with those you shared it with. These friends know exactly how it felt that first day you entered higher education, the time you set off the fire alarm and your first 3,000 word essay because they felt the same too. Even more so, they developed into mature academic adults the same time you did (if not for the occasional drunken slip into childishness that all uni students tend to suffer from on nights out). It is constantly thrown about that these people are going to be your friends for life but how can that be if you never find time to meet up or talk? Unfortunately, working and moving apart from one another is part of becoming an adult; earning a living and finding a career rather than a job becomes numero uno on a post-graduates list of priorities. So it is no surprise that some social groups begin to fade away into a sort of dream-like memory. But why should all of them? Surely some friendships, be it before university or during it, are worth maintaining?

So I ask you all to pick up that phone and make a long-awaited call to your uni friends because it’s always best to reminisce and giggle about the past with those involved.  Who knows, maybe with commitment to make it work, you can both make memories once again no matter how long ago you both graduated or how far apart you live from one another. You won’t know until you try.

‘For Bettel or for Worse’: What the Same-Sex Marriage means for Luxembourg and the EU

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What better way is there to celebrate Luxembourg’s decision to legalise gay marriage in January than their Prime Minister Xavier Bettel marrying his partner Gauthier Destenay? Not only does the marriage hold true meaning to the couple but also to Luxembourg itself; officially authenticating same-sex marriage into the country’s political history for all time.

Their marriage also signifies a defining moment in the EU’s history as he has become the first serving leader in the European Union to marry a same-sex partner but he is not the first government leader to marry a same-sex partner (that commendation goes to Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir.  Although Luxembourg is not the first EU country to legalise gay marriage, it is approximately tenth to do so, (the legalisation can become complicated with some countries accepting same-sex marriage abroad and others needing further legislation to be passed) this is a giant step for equal rights nonetheless, as Bettel claims ‘Luxembourg can set an example”.

The wedding also signifies a huge change in public attitude towards homosexuality as, although it was a private ceremony, they were greeted with acceptance by the public afterwards. However, it is not surprising that the public would be accepting as a poll in 2013 found that 83% of Luxembourgers supported gay marriage. Additionally, it suggests that the prejudice towards homosexuality is not as prevalent as it would have been a few decades ago where an openly gay man would never have been voted into leading a country let alone marry his partner.

Xavier Bettel has been open about his sexual orientation in the past , he believes that  “what happens at home remains private”  thereby normalising homosexuality as something that does not need to be constantly pointed out. Perhaps Bettel’s marriage will lead to a revolutionary change in homosexuality in politics and urge other countries to follow the lead and ultimately accept gay marriage as a legal practice after all Estonia’s Taavi Roivas was present. With a poll conducted in September 2012 finding only 34% of Estonians supported same-sex marriage and 46% supported registered partnerships, is it time for Estonia to finalise the bills to legalise gay marriage?  To conclude, Bettel’s latest tweet about his marriage sums up the reason for gay marriage perfectly; ‘We just have one life, live it’.

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’