In defense of Stardew Valley’s fantastically frustrating fishing

I am one of those weirdos in Stardew Valley who loves fishing.

Fishing is notoriously one of the most difficult components of Stardew Valley. It’s not really intuitive to pick up and even if you get decent at it, so much of it relies on reaction speed and timing that it sometimes puts a wrench in the otherwise chill game. But to me, fishing is unfairly maligned in the Stardew Valley community.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s unintuitive and so much of your success is left up to chance. But that’s exactly why I love Stardew Valley fishing so much. You get an adrenaline rush, coupled with the element of surprise since you never really know for sure what you’ll fish out of the water.

I’ve always liked fishing in video games because a lot of it is randomized, and that sweet, sweet anticipation does a lot for my neurons. Some people dislike this and have actively worked to get rid of it in Stardew, but it’s actually one of my favorite elements of any fishing minigame. In fact, I find it boring if I know what I’m looking for. And Stardew Valley’s fishing system is complicated; even armed with guides open in one tab displaying movement patterns, time of day, and weather information for each fish, I’m not entirely certain what I’ll fish up.

Image: ConcernedApe via Polygon

Unlike games such as Animal Crossing or Fire Emblem: Three Houses (yes, it had a fishing minigame!), where fishing might have some timing elements, Stardew Valley ups the ante. Pressing the buttons on time — quickly, but not too quickly — is tricky enough, but the fact that it varies from fish to fish ups the challenge even more.

At the moment you get a bite, all that matters is the battle between me and this little pixel fish; human versus (digital) nature. I operate on pure instinct, homing my reflexes to be sharp, so that I bring home that coveted catch. In this little pixel world, I stare out on the water, fishing rod in hand, determined to bring back a prize. The sensory experience is unrivaled: the little bobber, the moving fish, the frantic sound effects — it all immediately shifts my brain into master angler mode.

Stardew Valley fishing isn’t for everyone. It’s hard, and even though I enjoy it, I’m still not great about it. It’s frustrating as hell to search the waters for that last catch for your community center bundle (for me, it was the sturgeon). But then again, much of the game’s joy comes from mechanics that force you to take your time, whether you’re waiting for crops to harvest, descending the mines, or chopping down hardwood. There’s a pleasure in working for your farm, and each mechanic finds a different way to express that. It just so happens that the fishing one makes my brain go brrr in the best way.

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