Stardew Valley Player Mods Game To Make Characters More Diverse

Stardew Valley Player Mods Game To Make Characters More Diverse

Stardew Valley may look like a game about farming, but it's actually about people. And OK yeah, also a lot of farming. In Stardew Valley, you can befriend and, in some cases, romance characters in the game's tiny rural community. You give them gifts, learn more about them over time, and experience special events with them. You can even get married, and all romanceable characters will give you a shot whether you're a guy or a gal. It's an intimate sort of game where you sink into a comfortable quicksand of a schedule, where a bunch of fictional people become part of your day-to-day existence, and you theirs.

It's been interesting, then, to watch some players alter these characters to be more in line with the experience they want from the game or their own perceptions of characters in their heads. Already, there are countless mods to make bachelors and bachelorettes sexier, handsomer, more anime-like or into different characters altogether.

But there's also been debate brewing around a certain form of character alteration: ethnicity/background. It began shortly after Stardew Valley launched, with one player releasing a mod that made Maru, a young woman with a black father and white mother, look whiter. They ultimately took down the mod after a storm of backlash, and then backlash to said backlash. (Other players have since posted their own takes on that mod, however.) The gist was that many people didn't get why somebody would want to turn the game's only non-white marriage option white. At the same time, though, other players were confused as to why making Maru lighter was a problem, but modding Alex, the lone jock in a town of gentle green thumbs, to be more Hispanic-looking wasn't.

Stardew Valley Player Mods Game To Make Characters More Diverse

For his part, Stardew Valley creator Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone said some of these mods make him feel weird and occasionally uncomfortable, but he's not gonna stop people from making them. "It's hard to really even say how I feel about that," he told me during a recent interview. "I want people to love Maru for who she is. That's how I feel, but if people feel differently I don't really know what I can do about it."

There have also been mods pushing in the direction of adding more character diversity to Stardew Valley. Notsnufffie's ongoing Diverse Stardew Valley project is one of the biggest, overhauling a handful of romanceable and non-romanceable characters. They have made mods that turn Haley and Emily black, Robin and Sebastian Southeast Asian, Harvey Sikh, and Leah Native American, among others. Once again, though, some players wanted to know why this mod is acceptable, but ones that change the game's scant few non-white characters aren't. Notsnufffie weighed in with a pretty even-handed response:

Demetrius and Maru are the only people of colour in the game. Whitewashing them removes the very little representation the game has. White people don't need more representation. They can pick up any game, see any movie, watch any tv show and see characters like themselves. POC are so often only in movies, tv show, etc as minor characters or to meet a 'we have POC and therefor not racist' quota.

I'm making over some of the characters in Stardew Valley as POC because frankly I almost didn't buy the game because I was so disappointed with the lack of representation. You don't have to use the mod, like I won't use the whitewashed Demetrius and Maru. But I know I wanted to play a game with a more diverse cast of characters, and know there are people out there that might want to as well, so I thought I'd share.

I can definitely understand where they're coming from, and I'm glad they said it.

It's a tough situation with games like Stardew Valley, though, where a small cast of characters is front-and-center. Unlike in some other games, every NPC counts. They're all unique individuals with in-game lives and backstories. Changing their appearance — or even their stories — is bound to ruffle some feathers.

I feel like the game's romance aspect also makes things tricky. I've seen some players say that they're simply more attracted to characters who look a certain way, whether that means they're black, white, Native American or any number of other backgrounds. Standards of attractiveness come from all over the place, and while a lot of that is dictated by systems and communities that might favour whiteness, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to prefer some appearances over others — at least, on a personal level.

Stardew Valley Player Mods Game To Make Characters More Diverse

I feel like it wouldn't hurt for Stardew Valley's cast to be a bit more diverse, but I also get why some people might not be in favour of that. I'm not sure if mods are a blanket solution to problems of representation — only a fraction of people use mods at all, after all — but I suppose this presents a sort of tenuous balance. Like modder Notsnufffie said, if you don't want to use certain mods, you don't have to.

At the same time, though, I don't love the idea that, if some people want to see themselves represented in games, they have got to crack open a modding API and do the work themselves. That's... not a great precedent to set. This sort of modding is still a relatively underexposed thing, though. Here's hoping game creators are watching their communities and learning, untangling what all of this means and learning how they can improve their games for everybody.


    Waaaah, someone else did something to the game on their computer that I don't want to do on my computer so... make them stop!

      Just like that ridiculous bullshit response from busy-bodies objecting to a Dad modding a game for his kid, then releasing it for others to use, too.

      Jesus fuck. Let people do what the hell they want in mods. If turning dragons into Thomas the Tank Engine or pro performance wrestlers is fair game, so should appearance tweaks to make prospective imaginary partners which affects literally no-one else more attractive to you.

      You, the player, the only person who matters, on your machine, playing your save file.
      That Notsnuffie modder was bang-on about using - or not using - whichever mod you do or don't want to.

      Jesus Christ. What must the thought police think about the Nexus sites?

      Last edited 30/03/16 5:07 pm

        They don't talk about the Nexus... There isn't a safe space strong enough to hide them from the horrors of a single visit.

    People can mod the game to make every character a smurf, if that's what they want. They can even imagine they're doing it to right some perceived societal wrong about how smurfs are underrepresented in culture. I don't care. I like the game how it was originally designed and don't plan to use mods like this but it's not like it matters that they exist.

    If I cared that much about the ethnicity of cartoon characters, I wouldn't watch anime.

    Last edited 30/03/16 3:19 pm

    The predominantly white cast doesn't really surprise me. Rural towns tend to be pretty insular and wary of people that are different. It's also a very small town so unless it was somehow a gathering point for drifters of all nationalities then one race is going to be predominant over the others because immigrants are more likely to go to bigger cities. That being said, I really cannot understand why people are kicking up a fuss about people modding their own copies of a single player game when it has absolutely no impact on your own version.

      The argument for small towns being predominantly white holds weight if we all subscribed to the thought that games are meant to mirror reality?

        Okay fine - it's that way because the developer wanted it that way. If we divorce it from mirroring reality, then the dev can do as they please and have an all white cast if they really want to.

        Some games mirror reality enough to lend believability to them. Stardew Valley has some fantastical elements but predominantly it is a story about a farmer in a small rural town doing farm-like things. You could avoid the whole issue by setting it on Mars and have the entire cast be green-skinned, betentacled aliens with 6 eyes planting and farming Blupqauts and Briznots but it would be harder to identify with the themes and people.

        I'm not saying that it's the only truth that can exist in a game, but it's also a completely plausible fiction for a game based on farming to be set in.

          I'm not arguing the plausibility of your reasoning but rather the fact that gaming is more or less an artistic medium and the beauty with those mediums is they can take inspiration from reality but at the same time use artistic freedom to convey a better future. Grounded yet progressive.

          From everything I've seen about this game it doesn't appear to want to be a hardcore farming sim?

            That's the thing though, as an artistic medium the artist can portray their own story without having to be beholden to everyone's idea of what they should or should not include in their work. If Eric started adding in characters of every race then the story he wanted to tell would most likely become diluted and start to look like pandering instead. It's also possible he was sticking with what he knew and could write well. I know if I was to try and write a convincing Middle Eastern or African character then I wouldn't do them justice and they would come off as stereotyped or anglicised.

            I'm not trying to say that games can't be progressive, I love games that show other cultures and characters. I just think it's unfair to place the expectation on every developer to sacrifice their artistic vision for the sake of being progressive. Especially if it's going to result in a substandard or stereotypical character because they just don't have the knowledge to make them believable.

    Not something I'd want to do but doesn't bother me if others do. That's basically complaining because people aren't playing the game the way you think they should.

    At its heart Stardew Valley is all about giving you the basics and letting you discover your own path and do what you want.

    I don't have any problem with people modding the game to give characters whatever ethnicity they see fit.

    However, the idea that the game by default should have included more people of varied ethnic backgrounds annoys me.

    The game is set in (one assumes) a North American country town, traditionally a predominantly WASP domain. I was impressed that they included not only African American, but a mixed race marriage.

    At the same time, though, I don’t love the idea that, if some people want to see themselves represented in games, they have got to crack open a modding API and do the work themselves. That’s… not a great precedent to set.

    What do you expect the dev to do? Work off a check list of different races, religions and sexual orientations to make sure no-one feels left out.

    "Why did you add Andronicus as a character?" "Because I realised I hadn't included a left-handed Jewish Somalian boilermaker with a limp."

    There aren't any characters in wheelchairs either. No-one has a guide dog. None of the characters are androids. There isn't meth addict, or an alcoholic, or a stoner.

    It's a nice, simple, gentle game. Let it be that, and stop looking for ways to be offended that aren't there.

    Last edited 30/03/16 3:40 pm

      I agree that it is ridiculous to take things to an extreme, but there is definitely a character in a wheelchair and there is also a town drunk. It is more subtle about the drunk aspect but she is in the bar every night and openly states that she alcohol makes things better etc.

      The aspect that gets me is that people get offended to the point of bullying a mod that 'whitewashes' some of the coloured characters to being taken down. But then the defense is used for the other mod which diversifies the cast that you don't need to install it if you don't want. That same defense applies to the first mod.

      It is stupid that emphasis is put on including a large number of diverse characters rather than including a number of well written characters. If your only motivation for including a certain character is to meet some imaginary quota of diversity then the story you are telling is likely poorly written and constructed. If a character trait does nothing for the character other than checking off a list it is a stupid character trait.

        Totally agree. It's absolutely ridiculous that people would go on the attack when someone releases a totally optional graphical mod that is functionally identical to any of the others, with the sole exception of the appearance of the graphics. If it's okay to release a mod that turns everyone black, or into David Bowie, or whatever else you fancy, then a mod that turns them all white should be permitted too.

        We're in PC gaming because of the choices it offers with modding. I'd hate to see a world where we started censoring mods because X doesn't agree with Y unless it's blatantly offensive.

        I agree that it is ridiculous to take things to an extreme, but there is definitely a character in a wheelchair and there is also a town drunk. It is more subtle about the drunk aspect but she is in the bar every night and openly states that she alcohol makes things better etc.

        Oops. Good point. How could I forget Pam and George, especially after I spent so long hunting for leeks to make George like me.

          It's probably also worth mentioning that in character creation you can choose from 24 different skin tones. Feel free to assign an ethnic background to each of these and be as diverse as you like.

      People seeking diversity and inclusivity, or really just any representation, is not the same as looking to be offended.
      Why does the idea that a nice, simple, gentle game could present with broader ethnic diversity annoy you? Arguably, others are going to be annoyed that an entirely fictitious locale modeled on a small country town should be predominantly Caucasian because what? Reality?

      I don't really expect any kind of relevant answer after you've gone and so greatly conflated representation with hyperbole and fantasy; the way that conversations about diversity are dismissively thrown out or preemptively neutered because they're not the way things should be is frustrating.

        You know what else is frustrating?

        The fact that just about everything these days needs to hit some sort of diversity checklist lest it be accused of doing something wrong; And then if it is accused of not being 'diverse enough', you can pretty much guarantee cries that it was intentional are soon to follow.

        And If you think I'm being hyperbolic, then I'd say you clearly haven't been much paying attention to the world of late.

        Personally, I love seeing a diverse cast of characters in any game. However it is one thing to simply want to see that occur, a simple "Hey it'd be cool to see more X type characters." is all you'd need say. It is another thing entirely though to go count characters, see how many are white, black, male, female, etc, and then complain because one shows up less than another.

        That is ridiculous; And it is absolutely the type of thing one does when going out of their way to find something to be offended by.

        With narrative-based and character-focused games, the game creator has usually put a lot of effort in to crafting the characters, their personalities and the experience the players get from interacting with them.

        The creator has the right to create the kind of story they want with the kind of characters they want, and most people are happy to respect that. On the other hand, when someone makes a comment like "I almost didn’t buy the game because I was so disappointed with the lack of representation" it can come across as dismissive, as more interested in the ultimately cosmetic skin colour of the characters than the experience the creator has put so much effort into providing. It trivialises them, ignoring their personalities to judge them on their ethnicity instead. I can see how that could make some people unsupportive.

      Saying that having something else added to the base game would be a nice thing to have isn't looking to be offended. It's just stating that you would like something.

    I reckon people should be able to mod the characters however they like. You don't have to use the mod if you don't like it, no sense in stopping other people enjoying something because you don't.

    It's not surprising that people are changing things around to suit themselves given how easy the game is to mod. None of the animations have more than 4 frames and barely any secondary movement so you can do a lot of copy and paste.

    I did a quick test last night on the Abigail sprite. Took about 2 hours to go through every frame and make her look less like a frog and that was with a lot more fiddling about than was really necessary.

    What could have been a good article ended up being typical Grayson tripe on nothing. He even started off with an interview with the creator feeling unsure on these mods. I felt it could have easily been constructed into a discussion on player fantasy vs creator freedom. How does modding a game's cast, and at times the world, affect the game's creator (creators) who has spent countless hours creating said cast and world. The ability to alter the creation to your preference and experience it is something that's unique to video games. For other mediums, fan-fic writing is the only option the audience is able to express their view and fantasy on the subject, but it ultimately remains that, a fantasy.

    Last edited 30/03/16 4:58 pm

      Actually, the quote in the above article was actually from a much more in-depth interview of the kind you're after:

      He does actually mention the kind of thing you were talking about.

      Kotaku: What do you think when you see people giving characters sexy anime makeovers, or restoring versions of characters from early in development, or kind of, like, imposing their interpretations of your characters on the game?
      Eric Barone: Personally I find some of those things a little bit uncomfortable. I do have a personal attachment to some of the characters, so it is weird to see people change them like that. I’m not going to necessarily endorse that sort of thing myself like you said, like sexual portraits of the female characters or anything like that. I find it personally weird and uncomfortable. But I’m not surprised that people have done that, and it’s not like I’m going to try to do anything to try and prevent people from modding it however they want.

      When talking about diversity or the reactions of people like Linus to player attitudes, or the possibility for more story scenarios involving each of the characters (including difficult subjects, eg: being a home-wrecker, breaking up an existing marriage), it's sort of reinforced that these are people for whom the creator envisioned real personalities and histories and lives... and he cares about those, but he's not going to let that stand in the way of players choosing to play their own way.

      Last edited 30/03/16 5:14 pm

        Yeah I read the interview and it's why I was disappointed article turned out the way it did. Was hoping for it to explore the issue itself as a follow up as opposed to to reporting what's essentially internet drama on diversity, which is pretty much how a lot of Grayson's articles turn out.

        Last edited 30/03/16 8:19 pm

          Well, taking sides on a debate between noisy idiots is something we're all tempted to do, and it's probably in every internet writer's job description, so I guess I'm not as disappointed by any particular lost opportunity there.

          Seemed to have been a worthwhile process for the author at least a little to grudgingly drag this particular thought out of him:
          I feel like the game’s romance aspect also makes things tricky. I’ve seen some players say that they’re simply more attracted to characters who look a certain way, whether that means they’re black, white, Native American or any number of other backgrounds. Standards of attractiveness come from all over the place, and while a lot of that is dictated by systems and communities that might favour whiteness, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to prefer some appearances over others — at least, on a personal level.

    You should be allowed to mod them to be whatever you like. But if you think diversity matters in 2016, you're an infant. You are already living in a utopia that you give no credit for. It IS ALL in your heads, you dummies. I swear university campuses are just full of douchebags who'd like to avoid doing any real work so they just talk about POC and representation and equality all day. Pathetic

    1.) Under-representation, you say? Solution: Make your own game/creation. (ex. Steven Universe)
    2.) Or install/create diversity mods, to appeal to you specifically. The world will never cater to EVERYONE'S needs and sensibilities. To deny that, is to deny reality.
    3.) Hold no double standards. Demands (that were met, btw) to silence dissent go against the very principle of freedom. It's the same logic as Conservative Christians use in America. "Let's ban gay marriage b/c I don't personally agree with it." It's foolish. Nexus Mods complying with these people's intolerance to remove a white Maru mod is unjust and irresponsible.
    4.) Mods exist to enhance game experiences for each player. Please understand, using mods is NOT mandatory.
    5.) Yes, modding Maru to be white is stupid imo and I'd never do it. But it's not inherently racist. However, there likely are racist motives behind it. Which is sad. But demanding bans and silence, while supporting diversity mods, is equally if not more racist.

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