I hate being one of those people who's all like "Sorry I haven't posted in a while...", even when it's true. I haven't and I'm sorry. This implies you noticed/cared that I wasn't here, which seems really self-centered, but whatever. Anyway...
The reason I have been AWOL has been this game: Stardew Valley. It is not an exaggeration when I say that this game occupies all of my free time. I play in until my hands hurt. If I didn't love it so much, I would search out a 12 step program.
For those unfamiliar, which is probably a lot since I believe the game released in only February, it's an 8-bit styled game in the lines of Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing/Minecraft. The premise is you inherit a farm from your grandfather in a small town. That's really it. You farm fruits and vegetables, you raise livestock, you make friends with the townspeople, you start a family. It sounds so boringly simple but IT IS THE BEST! It's an almost perfect example of how to suck someone into a game. It gives you small quests and challenges, rewards you accordingly, and slowly unlocks tidbits of information over time.
You start off with a tiny house and farm parsnips. With your axe, scythe, pick axe, hoe, and watering can, you clean up your acreage and plant your crops. As your plants grow and you uncover resources, you upgrade your tools, your farm, and your house. Your only limiting bounds are your energy levels and the amount of daylight. Unlike Animal Crossing which is based in real-time, the average Stardew Valley day last somewhere between 15-30 minutes.
I've been playing this game for weeks now and play as two characters. The first one, 'Carolyn', is my exploratory character, doing everything for the first time. Her farm has been running for 'years' and is almost fully built. My second character, 'Red', is my efficient character now that I know what I should do. Although she's only been running the farm for a few 'months', it's developing very quickly. Here's an image of Red in her tiny house:
And here's Carolyn's fancy, fully loaded house:
In addition to farming, there are lots of other ways to explore and make money. A big way to do both is mining. You break apart rocks, gather gems and minerals, and dig deeper and deeper into the mine. As you descend, monsters and creatures fight you, but the resources become more and more valuable.
It's also a remarkably progressive and honest game. You're a female character and fall in love with a woman in town? Cool, get married and adopt some babies. The homeless old man in the mountains is scared of strangers because people have abused him in the past. There are at least two alcoholic characters. There are poor characters and insecure characters. One character returns from war and is battling PTSD. Spoiler alert: two characters are having a secret affair. It would have been so easy for the creators to make everything shiny and pretty, but the silly little NPCs are deep and real. Over time, as you befriend them, they open up to you.
My Carolyn character is now married to Elliot. He's an author with Fabio hair. While sweet, he's honestly kind of boring. My Red character is slowly playing the field, trying to find a more interesting match.
For $15, it's a great game. Given that I have 100+ hours banked between my two characters, I've definitely gotten my money's worth. If you know me from the real world, I would seriously buy the game for you just so we can talk about it. I've been away from it long enough now. Back to Stardew Valley!