On Turning off the Invaders In Dwarf Fortress and In Life
The entrance to my fort, cage traps, wooden cages, soldiers, a hospital, graveyard, trees, plants and a trading depot.
Yep, that's what you see here!
My kids started gaming at a very young age. This was, in part, my fault. I played and finished the first Legend of Zelda game before they were born. Together we played Lunar Silver and Legend of Legaia. As they grew older, their games became too difficult for me to play and Life interfered with game playing.
In my mid 50s, my oldest son introduced me to Dwarf Fortress. After a long campaign on his part and a mighty resistance on mine, I decided to give it a try. Dwarf Fortress is the ultimate geek game. Created by Tarn Adams, otherwise known as Toady One and his brother Zach, it is notoriously difficult to decipher and learn. Visually, it presents a cluttered field of ASCII characters and symbols and is controlled using PC keyboard commands. After an initial steep learning curve, and frequent trips to the Dwarf Fortress wiki, I figured out the basics of what was going on.
My difficulty with playing most current video games involves a basic lack of eye hand coordination and speed (or, Mom, you can’t even make your character walk in a straight line). Perhaps this kind of reflex needs to be developed early in life. I am dumbfounded by the speed with which my children play games. Dwarf Fortress, thankfully, requires none of this and I often return to it.
I play the game in Fortress mode in which one creates a Dwarf Fortress, usually underground, as small or massive as one desires. My goal is to run the lives of about 100 alcoholic dwarves by creating their environment and assigning tasks. The appeal of the game is that the design of one’s fort is completely open and there is ample room for random events to crop up. The world is deeply detailed and can be approached in many ways. As one digs deeper into the rock below the surface caverns appear with their own perils. Dig deeper yet to find pools of magma.
There is a tradition of running one’s fort in a gleefully bloodthirsty and morally derelict fashion. Some players post tutorials on how to do feats of Dwarfy engineering that are completely over my head. Honestly, I am not stupid, but articles on how to create multi level magma pumping systems or how to create defenses with siege engines and fortifications boggle my mind. I can only conclude that a lot of engineers play this game and they don’t suffer from the numerical and spatial visualization limitations that I do.
I prefer to play in wimpy Mom mode. I turn off the invaders for most of the game because as soon as I allow the goblin invaders and were creatures to encroach on my lands, the game inevitably descends into chaos and bloodshed in a matter of Dwarf months.
I prefer the initial stages of the game, when I can design and build a Fortress that runs with stunning efficiency. 100 Dwarves scurry about their tasks, hauling and sewing and cooking roasts and cutting gems. They brew alcohol, create crafts and toys, and sell their increasingly profitable goods to trading caravans. I delight in watching all this work get done just by crafting the environment and inputting minimal job orders. In no time, my Dwarves can buy out a whole caravan with their Legendary Roasts, piles of Rock Crafts and Silver Weapons. We’re self sufficient. Everything is running smoothly. Everyone is happy! But in Dwarf Fortress, as in life, sh _t eventually happens.
My stunningly efficient workshops, dining room and storage.
About this time, a dwarf will go insane and kill someone, or someone violates a noble’s mandate and is killed for his crime which usually starts a bloody killing spree. Or I will lose my head and decide I can handle a few invaders. I decide things have gotten boring. Things are going too smoothly. I feel I’ve got a handle on the ridiculously clumsy military and have created some amateurish defenses. It starts out OK. A few kobold thieves, a little Goblin skirmish. But then a were creature bites one of my Dwarves or a Forgotten Beast lumbers up from the caverns and wreaks havoc. Within minutes my serenely efficient Fort is awash in blood and mayhem and I know it will only get worse from there.
I can’t help but draw parallels with Life; and with my own life. I used to create crises because a crisis was familiar and preferable to sitting and feeling what I didn’t want to feel. I now enjoy everyday, mundane life. I take pleasure in getting life up and running efficiently. I am joyful when everyone is OK and there are no crises. I have finally learned not to create crises when life is good because life will create crises without my help. This took a long time to learn. On a regular basis, my beautifully balanced mobile begins to tilt, life happens, a crisis arises and chaos ensues. I know how to survive chaos but I no longer invite it into my kitchen with open arms. Today I choose not to turn on the invaders.