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.
I am feeling so sad today. I am letting go of my fantasy of being the little old crone down the lane who gives out herbal remedies and magical healing. The reality, as with so much of reality, has nothing to do with my dream of how that would be. Working with real people with real, unrelenting pain and physical, chronic disease is nothing like being the fairytale herbal healer. Or maybe it is. I suspect my fantasy healer has boundaries of steel and a magical ability to detach. I finally have raised my surrender flag and admitted that at his time, I don’t have what it takes to live my life as a healer. There must be a rare combination of caring and detachment that I can’t seem to achieve. I have too much caring and too little detachment; too much empathy and too little instinct for self preservation. Even though I am no longer practicing, I am still fascinated by the mysteries of healing and continue to try to understand the complexities of health.
In this process of working with people in their search for health, I have learned a few things. I have learned, first, how little we really know about health and how often medical doctors and alternative healers are without answers.
Health is not one thing. It is every thing. It is so complex that it is as slippery and difficult to pin down as talking about spirituality. It is not this diet, that regimen, this theory, that protocol, this amount of exercise, that amount of food. It is a complex combination of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical states. The devil is in the details and sometimes the details are maddeningly difficult to uncover. Health is understanding the ancestral genetics and emotional traumas passed on to you at birth. Health is learning about your emotional life and keeping current with it. Health is learning to say no; and learning to say yes. It is clean food and a clean environment. It is being paid enough. Health is loving your husband or leaving your husband if you need to. Health is finding what fits for you whether it is fashionable or current or odd or old fashioned.
BMI and blood sugar and blood pressure and cholesterol and frequent colds and flus are symptoms of imbalance. If you are imbalanced for too long, it begins to manifest itself in symptoms. If you don’t listen to the symptoms, they will persist and deepen.
We need to tend our inner life like a garden. Pathogens and pests abound and are at the root of much chronic illness, but if the soil of our inner life is healthy, they have less of a chance of running rampant. I do not want to imply that this is easy to do. It is extremely difficult, especially if we have a large burden of ancestral, genetic issues and life traumas. It is only a goal and a direction for us to head in to find our way out of our chronic states of disease. It is a suggestion that the approach needs to be wholly holistic.
Now my fantasy healer is not one healer. My ideal practitioner’s office would at least have a medical doctor, a manipulative doctor of osteopathy, a massage therapist, a Body Code practitioner, a homeopath and a therapist with connections to other specialists and alternative healers. They would meet together on a regular basis to share ideas about how to approach difficult chronic cases. There would be no animosity, competition and bad mouthing of each other’s disciplines. We need all of our practitioners and we need them to talk to each other.
I am at my best if I sit in silence for a few minutes every day, tuning into my body, mind and spirit. This small act and small space of time is difficult for me to commit to. But if I do, I can feel when I am imbalanced. I may have absorbed someone else’s pain and taken it as my own. I may have some strain or distance with a loved one. I may have a grief that I have been ignoring by being so busy. I may realize that adrenalin has become so familiar I can hardly feel it anymore; or that every little thing startles me and my adrenalin surges constantly. It may come as a shock that I haven’t really looked at the sky or felt my feet on the ground for a long time. I may remember that it feels good to swim. It feels good to do nothing. It feels good to have no obligations for a minute. It feels good to not listen to anyone else’s advice. It feels good to listen first to my own quiet voice and tend my own inner garden.
Honestly, do we all need to hear from one more person, piling more words on the virtual mountain of words on the internet? Probably not. I have to admit, I am doing this for selfish reasons. I have a desire to write and with all my creative endeavors, I never feel like the process is complete unless someone else shares it. So to all my potential readers, you are my chosen sharers. Thank you so much for indulging me and allowing me to play with writing, shakily share my thoughts and give me a much needed creative outlet.