for an article on Don't Starve, an illustration of the main character of the video game
Players navigate the game as Wilson, a scientist who must fight off the monsters in both the woods and his mind. (Illustration by Xingzhou Cheng, Fashion Institute of Technology)
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for an article on Don't Starve, an illustration of the main character of the video game

The video game throws users headfirst into a shadowy forest of magic and monsters where staying sane is the greatest challenge.

Imagine a world where life’s precious resources are scarce, isolation is guaranteed and death is almost always certain. Your decisions and livelihood depend on your ability to comprehend and manipulate the nature of magic and funnel that into science. Only players who master this process and use it to conquer the woods around them will survive. Even then, “Don’t Starve” will introduce new dangers and lands that seep from the depths of nightmares and dwell alongside you in an uncompromising universe.

What Is “Don’t Starve”?

“Don’t Starve” focuses on Wilson, a scientist with an estranged connection to the magic of the world he finds himself in. Players control Wilson’s actions, navigating the new landscape. Whether or not players thrive in this unforgiving environment depends on how well they adapt and conjure up resources for Wilson’s basic needs for survival: food, health and sanity.

Learning how to manipulate and conquer Wilson’s world comes at the expense of traumatizing the player. The game developer, Klei Entertainment, offers no guide or tutorial for its players, so they learn in the spirit of “uncompromising survival” and must either sink or swim. Players must scavenge for food, water and flowers to satisfy Wilson’s needs.

How Can I Survive “Don’t Starve”?

As long as players keep Wilson’s basic needs met and balanced, they will not die. The mechanics of “Don’t Starve” are much like every other role-playing game. By catering their journey to the stomach, heart and mind, players can explore the wonders and dangers of the map. The map holds many scientific secrets but it also contains many monsters from the darkness of the world and mind.

While ”Don’t Starve” refuses to ease players into the game, players will soon discover that learning how to craft and collect materials for tools is the best way to survive. With monsters and dangers lurking around every corner of the map, playing smarter is key to understanding the mechanics of the game and how to manipulate them to your advantage.

Learn to Live in the Dark Nature

“Don’t Starve” operates in a mixed 2D/3D styled world. While Wilson’s motion occurs in 3D, the setup and items are 2D, giving the elements within the world a distinct ambiance. This separation affects the minds of the players and it makes for the greatest strength of “Don’t Starve”: the distinction between the darker elements in the physical world and the monsters that live inside Wilson’s head.

The dark in “Don’t Starve” holds many monsters: Spiders, horses, bees and shadows dwell in the darkness that beckons players every day. Warding off the darkness is a daily occurrence, and players will be responsible for maintaining a fire. The light from the fire acts as a safe space, and as such, monsters and other dangers that drift from the shadows are kept at bay. In “Don’t Starve,” the biggest battle isn’t solely against the elements; it’s also navigating the shadows in Wilson’s head.

Navigating Wilson’s Shadow Land

The difficulty of warding off dangerous monsters lurking in the dark is coupled with the challenge of maintaining a safe space for Wilson in order to explore the entire map. As Wilson interacts on a 2D interactive plane, the shadows and monsters operate with great speed, giving them a menacing, 3D feel.

Furthermore, the direct ties to Wilson’s mental health make a huge impact on the gameplay. As players are quick to discover, if Wilson’s happiness drops, players can gather flowers to sustain his mental capacities. The single act of collecting flowers and maintaining self-care can keep players from experiencing the game’s darker elements: hallucinations and mental instability. If Wilson’s sanity dips low enough, players will begin to see shadows, demons and monsters that otherwise may not be there. As this statistic dwindles further, the monsters in Wilson’s head begin to take a life of their own and attack the player.

Understanding the Dark

“Don’t Starve” welcomes one and all to conquer its vast and dangerous land. With a learning curve in place, players can navigate the darker elements that the game has to offer. This exploration often comes at the expense of a few jump scares, but it’s all in good, adventurous fun.

Players are tasked with understanding the keen balance within and around Wilson in order to endure. The game doesn’t provide a guide or a safety net for its users and as such, new players may become frustrated or frightened by the elements as they traverse the map. If players can adequately take care of their basic needs, the game becomes a free world worthy of exploration and excitement. With no handholding to master “Don’t Starve,” learning to survive a world filled with monsters is only for the strong.

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