During this period of “social distancing” I have been playing a lot of the video game Don’t Starve.
It’s a resource management game, as I explained to the Thai restaurant delivery man who was delighted by the image on my television as he handed over a heavy bag full of curry, drunken noodles, and tofu triangles.
“Is it like one where you build a castle and have to defend it? I like those.”
“Kind of,” I said, awkwardly fumbling for the pen to sign the receipt. “Basically you don’t want to… you, know, Starve.”
“Don’t Starve, huh? I’ll have to check it out!”
The premise of Don’t Starve is this: you have been transported into a strange inhospitable environment, and you need to survive for as long as possible. While there is a setting where you can be “brought back to life” once you die, the original form of the game was simply over when your character died. Death was inevitable: the game would eventually end, you would eventually make a mistake.
There are many ways to die in Don’t Starve: hunger, of course, is a main one. There are many beasts and monsters in the world that will attack you, causing your health meter to eventually go down to zero.
There is also a meter for sanity. When your sanity decreases enough all food eventually becomes inedible, because you become convinced that all of your food has been transformed into piles of greasy and disgusting hair. Sanity is a precious resource: you are, after all, alone. In the wilderness.
Here are things that cause one to lose sanity in Don’t Starve:
- Being awake during the evening.
- Being awake during the night.
- Getting rained on without an umbrella or other protective gear.
- Eating raw meat.
- Eating raw mushrooms.
- Standing near monsters.
- Hanging out in a cave.
And here are things that cause one to regain sanity in Don’t Starve:
- Eating cooked food.
- For a character who likes hunting, hunting and killing things (including those pesky monsters!)
- For a character who likes the fire, standing near a fire and gazing at it.
- Wearing nice clothing.
- Picking flowers.
- Being awake during the day.
These are the lessons for being alone in Don’t Starve. Go outside during the day, especially when it is sunny. Enjoy the beautiful, pick flowers, and beautify your home. Participate in activities you enjoy. Eat nutritious and well-cooked food. Wear nice clothes, even if (especially if) no one will see you. These simple tasks stave against the horrors that will come in the evening and the night.
The monsters of the night will come out, make no mistake. You will feel irritable, depressed, alone. You will believe that everyone else is managing this period of self-isolation better than you, despite all the evidence to the contrary. You will believe everything you write, everything you do, everything you say to a colleague, is a hot pile of shit. You will debate going to the grocery store to buy a nonessential item even though you know that is not being a good citizen. You wonder if being a good citizen is all that it is cracked up to be. You retreat into the corner of your mind. You want to claw on your arms and your legs just to feel something besides the discomfort of being alone with yourself.
But, remember. The monsters will creep away in the morning, and you will get to exist another day.
We will do this, together. We won’t starve.