My sister spent so much time trying to nudge me out of the closet it took her years to come out as bisexual after I came out as a lesbian. We grew up in a Southern Baptist church in rural Georgia. Pop culture depictions of queer women weren’t exactly flourishing in the ’80s and ’90s, and anyway, our Sunday School teacher thought the Smurfs were a gateway to Satanic blood sacrifice. It took me and Jenn a long time to wrap our heads around what it meant to be gay; the idea that there was more than one way to be gay eluded us for decades.
Despite the fact that I’m only a year older than her and we shared a bathroom and a ride to school every single day of our teenage lives, we never got giddy together over our respective crushes. I didn’t want to talk to her about her kissing boys because I didn’t want to talk about how I didn’t want to kiss boys, and she didn’t want to talk to me about kissing girls because of how tortured I was by my desire to kiss girls.
Jenn recently took a tumble that landed her in bed for a few weeks, and so she downloaded a video game for herself the first time in her adult life. Stardew Valley. And at the tender ages of 36 and 38, we finally got to swoon over girls together.
Stardew Valley, which celebrated its one-year anniversary just this week is, at its heart, a farming simulation game. But it’s a lot more than that, too. It’s like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing had an 8-bit baby. It’s Farmville written by a storyteller. It’s sweet. It’s got so much soul. Besides the farming and mining and fishing and raising animals and crafting and battling bouncing monsters, Stardew Valley is a rich world of character building. Nearly everyone in town has their own story arc that you learn, piece by piece, as you level up your friendships. Plus, there are twelve romanceable players! Six guys and six gals and gender isn’t a barrier to any romantic option. Eccentric, golden-hearted Emily. Emo wannabe adventurer Abigail. Sad, determined Penny. Brilliant scientist Maru. Eco artist and reformed city-dweller Leah. And popular girl (with a surprise caramel center) Hayley.
Jenn and I live seven hundred and twenty-three miles apart, but three days into her first spring in Stardew Valley, we were ten-years-old together again, texting each other updates constantly about our crops and our crafts and the girls we were falling for.
Abigail’s bow is so cute.
Leah is so sweet.
Clint needs to fuck off; why is he stalking Emily?
Jenn and I got an Atari 2600 for Christmas when we were in kindergarten/first grade, and a Nintendo for Christmas when we were in fourth/fifth grade. We took turns playing Pole Position when our grandma brought us along to the laundromat, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the convention center where our mom worked the concession stand. When our little world was too much to handle, and when our lives drifted apart as we grew up, we always came back to Mario. Matching lime green bean bags, crashing and smashing our way through Goombas, Cheep Cheeps, and Koopa Paratroopas.
I married a girl for the first time in Skyrim. Jenn married a girl for the first time in Stardew Valley. I wonder what it would have been like for us to grow up playing video games where girls marry girls and boys marry boys. I was in my late 20s when I came out to Jenn in real life. We were driving down the road, my nephew snoozing in the back in his car seat. I said, “I need to tell you something. I need to tell you I’m gay.” She smiled and kept her eyes on the road. She said, “I know.” She made me watch Ellen’s “The Puppy Episode” in high school. She made me watch The L Word as an adult. She took me to Pride parades and we ran in gay 5Ks. “Dora the Explorer is a lesbian!” the guys handing out the paper cups at the water station would yell out. Jenn would yell back, “Today would be a perfect day for anyone to come out!”
Jenn came out to me at a picnic table over a beer. “Bisexual,” she said. “Bisexual, is that okay?” I said, “Of course it’s okay.” I said, “It’s better than okay.” I said, “It’s who you are!”
Video games are for everyone. They’re for anyone. They’re cool because they let you conquer and vanquish evil the way you wish you could in the real world. They’re cool because they show you a world that could have been, and a world where it’s just okay to be.