If You Tried To Fix Shane In Stardew Valley, You Might Be The Real Problem

Shane was never my first pick for a husband in Stardew Valley, but I was desperate. I needed footage for a video on Everything You Need To Know About Having Children, which required me to, in essence, speedrun through having a family.

The fact that Shane is at the Stardrop Saloon almost every night and within spitting distance of one of his favorite gifts (beer) made him the prime candidate. I told myself that at least I would get some blue chickens out of it. When my real-life partner came home from work that night, I told him about how awful Shane was as a partner. How his room was disgusting, how he was still talking about drinking even despite swearing he was sober now. The more I talked about why I hated Shane so much, a sinking feeling grew in my chest. I realized I was basically describing myself as a partner.

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I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 only a few months ago. This was after a relapse that had made it readily apparent that I was in need of professional help. Still, this was not the diagnosis I was expecting nor wanted to hear. If even I was judging Shane for his lack of progress, then what hope was there for me?

It’s a pretty natural reaction to want to ‘fix’ Shane. The ‘fixer-upper’ is a trope seen across all forms of media but especially in romance stories or life-simulation games like Stardew Valley. In these games, often the ‘objective’ of the relationship is to shower the romanceable candidate with unconditional love and, by the end of the romance, to help them change as a person.

While I personally never had any desire to fix Shane, I will admit that I assumed that once I triggered the ten heart event all would be resolved. My expectation was that I would be left with a grumpy but sober chicken-loving husband. Instead, the Shane romance arc in Stardew Valley shatters the ‘fixer-upper’ stereotype. It is probably the most realistic depiction of what it is like to live with a partner who struggles with mental health I have experienced.

Yes, after marrying him he might stop going to the Stardrop Saloon every night, and we can all hope that he continues to see his therapist regularly. Yet the reality is, life on a farm and a visit to the therapist do not a neurotypical person make. This is where the ‘fixer-upper’ stereotype becomes severely problematic. It creates an expectation of a ‘different outcome’ for people with mental illness. A happy ending. In truth, mental illness and addiction are lifelong conditions that, even with therapy and medication, cannot always be cured, at least not in the way we think of cures. Even with the right medication and weekly therapy sessions, my life with bipolar is not completely ‘fixed’. My home office is still a bit of a mess. There are still bad brain days and manic moments, though I am learning better tools to manage them.

As hard as this has been for me to grapple with on a personal level, I know that it can be even harder for people with partners with mental illness. Case in point: here I was, in Year Three of Stardew Valley, eager for the day I could get my blue chickens and finally divorce Shane. Was it fair of me to resent Shane for not meeting my expectations? Yes, and no.

If there is anything we should take away from the romance arc with Shane, it’s that we cannot change people. We only have the ability to create change within ourselves. On the other end of that spectrum though, we need to ask ourselves: what are our own boundaries? Can we maintain those boundaries, even when the person we love is struggling? As much as we all want to believe in the universal cure of a happy ending, love, even unconditional love is not a salve for bad brain chemistry.

Shane’s fourteenth heart event, in which you catch him playing arcade games at the Saloon instead of drinking, sums it up perfectly. If you tell him, “I’m sorry, I should’ve believed you,” Shane will reply, “Look… I know I haven’t been perfect… but I’m trying my best… and I’m gonna keep trying. So you don’t have to worry about me. My life is better now than it’s ever been. I’m not in such a dark place anymore…”

Maybe that is enough. Not to be perfect, or even likable. But to keep trying.

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Shailyn Cotten (104 Articles Published)

Shailyn lives in Upstate New York in a spooky old house with her partner, a pup, and three cuddly cats. Before becoming a Game List Writer with TheGamer, Shailyn wrote entertainment listicles for Odyssey Online and TV recaps of SyFy shows for The Fandomentals. With a sweet spot for games that thread the line between wholesome and eerie, she aspires to create a safe space for other LGBTQIA+ gamers in her Twitch community. You can find her streaming cozy or creepy games at www.twitch.tv/vvitcheri

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