“I don’t really dig the Tim Burton look.” I say.

“I don’t know. I think it’s much closer to Edward Gorey’s art style,” he says, then clicks around on his keyboard. “Take a look. I just googled some of Gorey’s artwork.”

“Oh man, you’re right. It’s got this Victorian gothic thing going on. Subtler than Burton. I respect it. But I don’t like it.” I say.

“But you like Don’t Starve?” He asks.

“It’s weird. I don’t prefer the art style. But I get how it fits. Like, I’m really digging the game, but I think the game is making me a worse person. Like if I was actually trying to survive, I don’t think I’d manipulatively kill defenseless creatures, indulge in dark arts, and generally be awful…” I say.

“But you think it still has merit as a Christian?” He asks.

“I don’t know, I mean, there’s so much in us that seeks to relate to the heart of survival. Like since Eden we’ve been toiling with the ground. It’s something we can all relate to.” I say.

“Okay, but do you think that still comes through in a videogame where survival is reduced to the virtual?” He asks.

“At the very least, it scratches the itch; that desire to feel like you’re fighting to be alive. I think that its imaginative distance also points to wonder.”

~

Have you ever heard a rabbit shriek? Quite the dreadful sound.

I may not be the most impressive Christian in the world. But I’m pretty familiar with at least a few of the two-to-three hundred verses in the Bible that warn against idolatry.

With my newly-crafted axe drawn, I chase after the critter with one thing on my mind: dinner. I just chopped down some trees and had everything I needed to make camp except something to satisfy my stomach. The rabbit got away. I must rethink my plan. I have just enough twigs and grass to fashion a trap. I set it just beside the rabbit’s hole.

Now, the only sensible thing is to make a fire. Instead, I find some more flint and use it to create a pickax.

I go to town on a few boulders with my new tool. On the second boulder, I find a chunk of gold! After that, I become a certified forty-niner.

Completely losing track of time, I am swallowed up by the darkness of night. I hear a shriek behind me infinitely worse than the rabbit’s. I push dead grass and twigs together, trying to make a torch.

Something bites me. I’m dying.

Suddenly, my torch lights. The darkness subsides. I breathe. I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath.

I make a fire with my remaining supplies. A few more awful noises come from the halo of darkness around my campfire, as if waiting for the last ember to choke out.

And just like that, it’s dawn. I may be an inch from death. And my stomach rumbles with hunger pains, but I have survived my first day.

My stomach growls again. Time to check on the rabbit trap.

It’s empty. And my fluffy nemesis is grazing in the distance. I’m too hungry to be patient any longer. I set a carrot I was saving on the ground and wait just long enough for Mr. Food to take the bait. He gets closer and closer. When he starts to nibble, I run up and chop him in the back.

I only wish that rabbits had more meat on their bones.


"Hey yall, welcome. This is my crib. Let me show you around."

~

I’m not a hunter or a gatherer. I pulled myself out of Boy Scouts because I hated doing things outside. But something deep inside of me comes alive at the notion of survival against the elements. Perhaps it’s a primal joy that’s inherent to all mankind? I love being pressed against a dark place and being reminded of what’s essential; what I’m really made of. And I’m completely okay with that as long as I don’t actually have to experience pain, hunger, cold, or the frustration of things not working the way they should.

~

I don’t know how I did it, but suddenly I have tossed together a scientific prototyping machine. And I have just enough resources left to make a fancy new shovel!

I venture away from camp, looking for something to dig up. Eventually, I come across some graves. I look at them for a moment, pondering the morality of grave-robbing before letting the burn of daylight force me to act.

Each plot delivers a curious object: a red gem here, a lawn gnome there, another gem (blue this time), and a toy robot. My head starts to hurt and my vision gets a little warbly. But I keep digging graves, figuring that the payoff is worth the weird effect it’s having on me. Something catches my eye. I swear the shadows are moving toward me. At least they back off each time I step in their direction.

A few steps away, I came across a strange altar made for some kind of foreign god known only as “The Beast” with flowers around it that I can only describe as evil-looking. I touched the altar and it responded to my touch by growing a strange platform that felt like it had my name on it.

"What? I'm fine. Not cold. Got this fire. I love it here. I could stay here forever. Noooo problem."

“What? I’m fine. Not cold. Got this fire. I love it here. I could stay here forever. Noooo problem.”

~

I may not be the most impressive Christian in the world. But I’m pretty familiar with at least a few of the two-to-three hundred verses in the Bible that warn against idolatry. So at this point, I took pause. Is this okay?

I recognize that from a spiritual perspective there’s a cognitive dissonance between me and the character. I’m not him. I’m not constrained to his rules. The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians to “…test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” So I figure it’s okay to disown the things about my character’s actions that I don’t like and venture onward to the things I do. Is this an appropriate scripture application? Well, I doubt Paul anticipated the existence of videogames like Don’t Starve, despite all of his great wisdom and foresight. So I work with what I’ve got.

~

I’ve survived eight days now. Eight seems like a lot in my mind. The world is hostile enough, without me poking at a hornets nest or starting a fight with a herd of giant beefalo. But my curiosity often gets the best of me. Just yesterday, I went straight for a giant spider’s nest, baiting and stabbing each giant spider just to find out what it might drop when I kill it. And how am I going to make use of spider glands? No clue. I’ll probably find out when I get back to camp. That is, if I don’t get distracted first.

Just a few hours ago, I saw a weird nest-like hole. As I got closer, it opened wide, exposing small teeth that invited me in. I thought about it for at least a handful of seconds before jumping in.

I’d say I’ve done crazier things, but that’s probably not true.

The hole popped me out on the other side of the world. Things in the area around me were mostly normal except that I found some kind of magical doorway. My curiosity reached maximum for that moment, and I resigned to look around the doorway before stepping through. I discovered another beefalo herd just a short distance away from the door. I made another camp nearby so I could collect the beefalo’s manure and make a farm during the day. At night time, I’ll sneak up on the beasts and harvest their fur for clothes.

I think I’m going to need all the help I can get for what’s on the other side of that magical doorway. I don’t know where it’s going to take me. But I feel like I should stock up for whatever is on the other side. But maybe I’ll just get impatient and jump through. That has become my habit lately.

~

I’ve lived and died and tried life again as different people. I learned how to catch rabbits for dinner and how to harvest tools for survival. Once I learned the skills to survive, I was more prepared to venture deeper into the mysterious wild. I wasn’t always proud of what I did to get there. But, I overcome my fears and limitations–I learn what I am capable of. In this way, the wondrous world of Don’t Starve took me a step beyond the fight for survival. It disregarded the threat of death and said, “What is possible? Let’s go find out!”


M. Joshua Cauller

 
M. Joshua Cauller is an interactive designer who has spent far too much time trying to dodge a calling to the videogame industry. You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his blog, Love Subverts: http://lovesubverts.com/