Don’t Starve and the Miserable Life Lessons It Taught Me

Don't Starve

At this precise moment in time, I am choking down the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever consumed — maybe the worst cup of coffee in existence. The beans it was brewed with were clearly burned, and it tastes as though it was re-heated several times over. Something is wrong with the water used to prepare it, and I don’t want to think too much about what that something might be. A spill thoroughly destroyed the paper cup it was served in, so I’m pouring it little by little into a tiny ceramic mug.

Under normal circumstances, I’d give up, chuck the coffee, and pick up a cup of something better. Unfortunately, circumstances are anything but normal. Today is Christmas, which means my options for coffee are severely limited. This coffee — this horrific, tongue-burning cup of coffee — is the only caffeinated beverage I’ll get all day.

It’s both sad and strangely fitting that I’m doing all of this while watching our Editor in Chief play Don’t Starve.

Most of my time with Don’t Starve has been as a spectator. I don’t have my own copy of the game, and I’ve only had a few playthroughs of my own. In spite of that, I feel like I have a strong understanding of the way the game works. I know what resources I need to collect early on, as well as what I need to find before I can settle down. Watching Don’t Starve has taught me how to deal with Treeguards, and how to get through a long, lonely winter.

Don't Starve

But more than anything else, Don’t Starve has taught me the importance of settling. When your primary goal is survival, it’s important to make do with what you can. You don’t need to hunt for meat when mere berries are enough, and you don’t need to craft a top hat when a garland is sufficient. Reaching for the sun will only bring you tears and premature death, dear Icarus.

Generally speaking, that’s not a philosophy I apply to my own life. The best things I have are there because I put myself out there, because I took dangerous, terrifying risks. If I lived by the Don’t Starve code, I wouldn’t be a professional writer, and wouldn’t live in a cool apartment in an awesome city. I’d just exist.

But when my gambles don’t pay off, when I find myself crushed under the weight of my own disappointment, Don’t Starve is where my mind goes.

About a week ago, I agreed to accompany our Editor in Chief on a mission, a quest so simple it could scarcely be called a mission at all. We began the night with a seemingly attainable goal: to eat dinner at a local Buffalo Wild Wings. We ended the night cold and defeated, eating cheap, awful pizza while playing Don’t Starve.

Don't Starve

We encountered our first obstacle the moment we pulled into the parking lot. Even though the restaurant wasn’t at all crowded, every single parking spot was taken. The nearby paid parking was obscenely expensive, which meant our original plan was out of the question.

If we’d followed the Don’t Starve philosophy, our night would have ended there. We would have gone home, eaten some cooked carrots or leftover jerky, and been happy with what we had.

But we decided to keep trying, confident that our mission could still be fulfilled. We decided to make a trek to another Buffalo Wild Wings, one with a location we were slightly less familiar with. After all, the night was still young, and we had Google Maps at our disposal. There was no reason we couldn’t work things out.

No reason except that it was the week before Christmas, and this particular Buffalo Wild Wings was located just outside one of the largest malls in the Twin Cities area. We tried to keep up confidence, but deep down, we knew our plan had failed before we ever set foot in the door. When we were told there was a 30-minute wait, we retreated, settling for the terrible pizza we should have settled for an hour before.

Here in the present, as I take another sip of cold, life-ruining coffee, I’m reminded that things could be much worse. Maybe I could get a better cup of coffee somewhere, but maybe trying would get me lost, or stranded on the outskirts of town with a flat tire on Christmas Day. Right now, I’m on a comfortable bed, wrapped up in a warm fuzzy blanket, and have Chinese food to look forward to. I may not have good coffee, or even drinkable coffee, but I do have some things in my life that aren’t terrible.

And at least I get to watch some Don’t Starve while I wait for them.

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