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Cozy games like Coral Island and Stardew Valley just make me lonely

While cozy farming games like Stardew Valley and Coral Island are supposed to evoke a sense of community, I'm often just not feeling it.

Two people, a man and a woman, in a white shirt with blue dungarees stand in the ocean, the man holds a pickaxe above his head triumphantly as a pig sits beside him smiling

As I spent my 30th day in a row, using all of my energy underwater, slowly scraping tons of toxic trash out of the ocean in Coral Island, I realized how lonely I was in this small world. Slice-of-life farming-style games have grown steadily in popularity over the years, and most of them revolve around restoring a farm and helping a town, but in many cases they fail to capture the feeling of a community.

Stardew Valley is another farming game that I have sunk countless hours into alongside Coral Island, slowly fixing up my farm, but also helping out all of the other people in town. They want the random veggies I grow, they ask me to find items, and occasionally I’ll get a cutscene where I need to make decisions on how to react to them. These seemingly minor tasks are fine at first, but as I spend my days trying to improve my farm to contribute to the community in town, while simultaneously putting the time in to gather meaningful items to gift them, I realize they don’t give me much back.

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Coral Island is somewhat more hands-on, with the beach covered in trash, giant, mysterious creatures needing help, and many of the townspeople relying on you to stop their home from becoming a tourist trap. You’ll want to donate to the museum, clean the entire ocean, and bring the town back to life. There’s just a lot to fix up.

The people in the town, on specific cutscene days, will tell you that they do care about the ocean, they do miss the museum, they do want the town to be respected again. At the same time, they task you with doing all the leg work. None of them are finding the time to replant, to donate to the museum, or to clean up the trash on the beach, let alone in the water. It’s up to you, alone, to do all of the fixing. As the town grows in popularity and its myriad issues are resolved, I am sure everyone’s spirits rise, but your reward is often straightforward progression, not a heightened sense of community or belonging.

Two women stand on a beach, one thanks the other for their ongoing friendship

It’s terribly lonely fixing up an entire town on your own, especially one whose people are unwilling to chip in and establish the work as a true community effort. While I do get satisfaction from keeping busy, ticking off tasks, and seeing the town do better, I’m left feeling a little hollow, even on the once-a-season community days where everyone comes together. I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I say it’d be nice to see the townsfolk help out now and then or even donate some items to the cause.

Does this mean I am going to stop rebuilding an entire town on my own while managing my own business? No. I will continue until my new home is perfect, even if my mayoral ambitions are unlikely to ever come to fruition. In the end, games like Stardew Valley and Coral Island could benefit from focusing more on the collective action of the town, even with you as the primary driver. It would make the satisfaction of seeing the results of not just your own but your community’s efforts all the sweeter.