Picture a stripped down, hollowed out, watercolor version of Stardew Valley, and you’ll have something very close to The Stillness Of The Wind, which released on February 7 for Switch and PC.
It feels like a trip to Grandma’s house filtered through the existential loneliness of a Samuel Beckett play. It can be relaxing but also alienating. What start as comforting rituals eventually give way to heart-wrenching sadness.
You play as Talma, an old woman living by herself on a small farm. Her only companions are a handful of goats and chickens and a travelling merchant who occasionally stops by to trade gossip and supplies.
Her life is oriented around a day and night cycle that sees her spend her waking hours taking care of her animals, making cheese, planting crops and going for short walks, before going to sleep most days right when the sun sets.
The materialist endeavours that usually drive video game simulations of farm life, such as trying to make bank selling crops or build up an impressive enough estate to attract the affections of a potential partner, are nowhere to be found in The Stillness Of The Wind.
Talma’s life goes on, but its days feel increasingly short. Instead of the steady march of player progress and optimised routines, she’s confronted at every turn by melancholy memories — the rock she remembers sitting on when she opened a rejection letter from a university she’d applied to, or a shed that was last repaired back before her last child moved away.
“One by one, everyone left — for the city or across the sea,” Talma remembers to herself at one point.
What she’s been left with is far from joyless, and though the game is free-flowing and mostly directionless within the confines of its small and simply defined sandbox, it feels as though one of the player’s tasks, in addition to collecting eggs and planting wheat, is to help Talma come to terms with the pleasures still left to her as they come to terms with it themselves.
In my handful of hours guiding her through the ebb and flow of nearly complete solitude, I struggled not to pity her. On our walks through the nearby countryside, Talma would playfully drag a walking stick behind her, tracing our mutual path.
Some relaxing games with meditative streaks fail to find the tension and friction in a world without rigid objectives and obvious threats. As a result, they can fail to offer something that might generate the distance between two things necessary for a deeper relationship to take root.
No matter how many times I walked Talma through her morning chores, or took inventory of her remaining supplies, she always felt separate and somewhat unknowable. In the end, The Stillness Of The Wind helped create a more mindful headspace to occupy, not because it forced me to look inward, but because it brought me out myself and enveloped me in a stranger’s world.
So often the games I play invite me at every turn possible to express myself in some way. I wasn’t prepared for how refreshing it would be to simply subsume myself in trying to fulfil the needs of a mysterious other. There’s no real end-game to The Stillness Of The Wind that I know of, but it feels better that way.