Dreamlight Valley Runs On Coal

If an army marches on its stomach, the bellies of your favourite Disney characters are stomping around lined with soot.

Playing this game, Disney Dreamlight Valley (2022), by one of THE entertainment companies, for a job where I haven’t made rent in two months work, and you power your gas stove with coal, really brought home a feeling of dread to me last night.

It wasn’t a specific terror, but like someone had me dancing around in my head trying to stomp out a burning fuse.

Why does the game’s food economy rely on coal power? You put in ingredients into your pot, simple, but you need a lump of coal to cook. Even stuff like fruit salad.

Is it something to do with one of the works the game draws on for its world?

I thought that because there’s a painting in the game, one that is so naughty I was surprised to see it.

It’s the famous 1767 rococo painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, of a woman on a swing letting a guy look up her skirt as she’s on the upswing, her shoe flying off looking giddy. The version in the game is actually an homage, painted in a similar fashion, however the suitor is not getting a good look. Rather, he is gallantly the one pushing the young woman on the swing.

Why did Disney put in the sex joke painting?

There was a popular YouTube video about it recently. I didn’t watch it at first, since I knew what the painting was, but a friend informed me that it informs us that this homage to the painting appears in Disney’s Frozen. The line from painting to game is thus clear, and we can see it’s not specific, but already part of the long canon of Disney approaching sex in art as something to be sanitised.

So is there an animated work the game draws on to bring in coal as the power source for your cooking? The closest seems to be a reference to Sleeping Beauty, since, she lives for a bit with some fellas who love to go digging and does use their pot to make some stew, which might be on hot coals…

Outside of this, in the real world today, people of course still use solid fuel stoves. It’s less common in the UK where gas and electrical power are the most common, but around the world where there’s a lack of energy access for heating and cooking, solid fuels are essential.

Here it’s mainly used in stoves in older British houses, usually either remote, or owned by middle class aspirationals. These ovens designed to run all day, to stay warm, running on burning coal or wood or peat. There’s also coal fired pizza ovens, popular in New York, which take a long time to warm up and want to stay hot for a long time.

If it’s the case that you get a stove top with gas burners as your first oven, instead of an Aga for making a sunday roast, or a pizza oven for making big sloppy New York Pies, why coal? And why JUST coal, when other solid fuels are available.

My guess is that it’s the numb and empty answer that well “It fits.” The Ockham’s razor of it is that you use a pickaxe to gather key materials, and so if that’s already there as well as the Snow White home comfort of it, and you need to power something, well why not coal? You’re always digging and smashing anyway.

Wood powered stoves would make more sense though, since it’s not as much of a total ecological, local and global disaster material when gathered renewably…

Also why are you off the energy grid even, in terms of every single oven in the game? There certainly seems to be a grid for running all of the electric lights in the buildings and streetlamps, so why no less volatile power options for the cooker in your house in what is apparently a major and upmarket area for living? Is there no gas supply and that would be the only possible way, so instead we chose coal? Who is powering the other grid? Why is renewable energy not even an option?

I don’t know. I also assume that the developers don’t really know. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can wring out of each interaction a crushing longing for a self driven, earth exploiting harvest.

But, if the goal of the game is to rebuild and repopulate Dreamlight Valley with Disney characters, does everyone need their own power source to cook with… to individually mine it and release its results into the air? Smog City.

Of course, this is all moot in terms of the game’s actual environmental mechanics right?? Surely there is not some kind of air pollution mechanic in Disney Dreamlight Valley… EXCEPT the central conceit of the game IS that evil polluting plants have been able to wipe the memories of the valley’s inhabitants.

Read with a little bit of imagination, your goal in the game is to deforest the land of the valley, mine it for coal and precious minerals, in order to be able to afford to return it to the hands of the Disney Characters…

I’m skeptical to see this as intentional and build a conspiracy around this, though would be interested to know of Disney’s dealings with the world of coal more generally.

It feels like a choice that came out of pitches about how to make cooking work in the game’s mechanics of resource harvesting. It’s one that fits only with certain things. One that shouldn’t fit with the aesthetics, technologies, social realities, fictional or real logics, temperaments or needs of a town like that in Dreamlight Valley, an affluent one modelled on wealthy English suburbs… and yet. Perhaps it makes sense for it to be Disney who alongside those Tory towns of business owning Scrooge McDucks, show so little respect.

We are in a world in peril caused by the attitudes of countries in which coal was hyperexploited on massive levels, rather than on the level of individual personal use in rural communities. Disney’s pop cultural vision accompanied that exploitation, and many others, for the past 100 years.

My real concern is the thought that coal is poised as a neutral and natural part of the economy, when there were so many ways to leave a climate change driving fossil fuel out of the Disney game about aspirational living and community building. Why not have a shared power network that everyone is drawing from powered by renewable energies? If it’s not a game about the realities of non-solid fuel poverty, why just hand a WIN like this over to coal?

Disney Dreamlight Valley is, in many ways, an odd place. The oddness of it may get an easy pass, because look there’s Mickey, yet look closer and in Mickey’s hand are the coal mining and fracking licences he just got approved.

One thought on “Dreamlight Valley Runs On Coal

  1. The importance of “The Swing” in Disney lore stems from its prominence as an inspirational reference for Disney animators during the transition of Disney animation from a hand-drawn cel approach to a CGI house that still approached the vibrance of hand-drawn animation. Glen Keane was the creative force behind Tangled, Disney’s first CGI main feature (note Disney, not Pixar), and the work of the rococo painter Jean-Honore Fragonard was what Keane held up as the standard of what Keane wanted the studio to achieve with their CGI rendering technique. In the years leading up to Tangled’s release, the recreation of “The Swing” seen in Remy’s Restaurant was frequently used to indicate the style Tangled would try to replicate.

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