Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: When video games take over your life

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A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.
A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.

If you're selling a house, buying a house, getting married, getting divorced, starting a new job, or doing anything at all that requires you to spend your free time being productive, don't buy Stardew Valley.

If you are in a relationship and want to keep tension to a minimum, don't buy Stardew Valley.

If you have kids to look after, or even a pet: Do. Not. Buy. Stardew Valley.

A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.
A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.

Because despite the fact that I am both buying and selling a house, I have a full-time, non-games job, I have a husband and a dog and friends, and I am in the middle of judging a local game development competition, I somehow managed to spend a full 24 hours playing Stardew Valley over the course of just over a week.

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator, crossed with an RPG, crossed with Minecraft. It's also widely considered to be a spiritual successor to Harvest Moon, for those few Kiwis who played that game. And it's dangerous.

Have you ever heard the phrase "one more turn syndrome"? It's often associated with turn-based strategy games - primarily the Civilization series. It refers to a state in which a gamer tells themselves they'll just take one more turn before they go to work, or to bed, or wherever it is they should probably be.

A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.
A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.

I definitely suffer from that when playing Stardew Valley. But there's another, more insidious issue. In order to start saying "one more turn", I have to actually be aware of what the time is. And when I'm playing this game, time just seems to disappear.

I'm not new to this sensation. When a game successfully transports you into another world, time seems to evaporate. Not too long ago, I played Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, a game that made me literally forget to eat when I got into it. And yes, Civilization V ate up a large chunk of my time.

A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.
A scene from the video game Stardew Valley.

But I'm realising now that I only got away with playing those because I could play them with other people. They were still a social activity, considered to be an acceptable use of my time by most of the people who love me. Stardew Valley is an entirely solitary game, and I want to play it all the time, forever.

When I was little, I was really into books. I'm still into books, but I was really into books. I used to sit in class at school and think about how I couldn't wait to get home and read the latest Animorphs. I hadn't felt that sensation in an awfully long time, but this relaxed little game where you don't achieve a whole lot has been hogging my brain space.

I think I've figured out why.

It's because I'm buying a house, and selling a house. It's because I have a job, and responsibilities, and because life can be really hard sometimes.

Because Stardew Valley is, at its core, about escaping all that. At the start of the game a little character is living in the city, working in a job they hate, and they make the decision to go and live on a farm they've inherited. It's a daydream we've all had at some point. Everyone occasionally thinks about running away from it all.

So maybe if you have a lot going on right now and you just need a break, you should buy Stardew Valley.

I know I feel better.

- nzherald.co.nz

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Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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