MineCraft is currently the hottest video game for kids under 12 years of age. The originally touted “survival horror game” has evolved into an inexpensive virtual LEGO set. Children seem to be addicted to building castles, smelting ore and mining for lava. There’s even a short documentary that deals with the subject. Not only is the game smashing records, but it has changed the way we define video games.
On April 23 2013, a new open-world game was unleashed upon the public. This one is simply titled Don’t Starve. The title is about all the guidance the player is going to receive once they start the game. Its simplicity, along with the adorable Edward Gorey-esque graphics, makes this a very powerful learning tool for kids. Drop any assumption that this is just some clone of MineCraft or the 2-D sidescroller Terraria. Don’t Starve stands out for its urgency and the importance it places on survival in a world that is extremely deadly. Starving, going insane, being stung to death by killer bees, getting devoured by monsters when the sun goes down — these are only samples of the fate that awaits for careless ill planned expeditions. You get two hints from the game: Build a fire and, well, Don’t Starve.
The great thing about these open-ended games is how they challenge a child’s critical thinking. Don’t Starve becomes even more complex by throwing countless random obstacles in your path. The game is more about surviving than building stuff. Identify a goal, create a strategy, execute that plan. While MineCraft is more casual, Don’t Starve will appeal to kids who are craving more of a challenge.
Here’s a walkthrough of a typical first day in the game.
I’m lying on the green grass with a gentleman towering over me as he informs me that it will be dark soon, and that I better find something to eat.
Suddenly he vanishes. I begin to gain my wits and pick myself up off the ground. My HUD informs me the time of day, my health, hunger and what appears to be sanity. There is a button that lets me view the explored areas on a map. There are arrows for rotating the screen, since the game is more of an angled top down view. Along the bottom of the screen, I see my inventory, which is barren. And finally on the left I see icons for crafting tools. There is a blackbird pecking the ground next to me. I try to run toward him, but he flies away. Luckily, he drops some seeds that I pick up and automatically store.
First, I need to think about strategy. In survival situations, the most important things are food and shelter. In Don’t Starve, nighttime will kill you. So, in addition to finding food, I’ll need to figure out a way to build a fire. Looking at my crafting menu, I learn that I can build three types of fire: a campfire, a fire pit and a torch. To build a campfire, I’ll need to gather three “cut grasses” and two pieces of wood. Patches of grass are growing near me, so I walk over to investigate. Clicking on the grass allows me to add it to my inventory. I try a tree next, but nothing happens. It looks like I’ll need an ax to cut down any trees to obtain the wood I need.
I continue searching for grass. I collect five clumps of grass, along with a carrot, some berries and some sticks. Fortunately, the crafting menu tells you what you need to create items. It turns out that I need three sticks and a piece of flint to make an ax. I guess I better find some flint. After some more strolling through the forest, I gather two pieces of flint, another carrot and some more berries.
It will be dusk soon. Time to make an ax and get cutting. Once my ax is equipped, I begin chopping down a slew of trees. Eventually my ax wears out and is rendered useless. Tools have limited durability. Good thing I stocked up on extra supplies. Fortunately, I’ve collected enough wood to build that campfire. It’s now dark and I have a very bright fire burning.
During the first day, I encountered a handful of animals. Butterflies, some kind of rabbit or squirrel, a turkey and a dangerous looking bee that I avoided. I’ve amassed four carrots and two berries. Certainly not enough food to live on, but for now I can breath a little easier having survived Day One. Now to start planning for Day Two. Food will be my primary concern as I try not to succumb to starvation.
That’s just the surface of the game. The trailers indicate more depth and gameplay options. Don’t Starve is the perfect game to introduce your child to critical thinking. And you can pause the game, making it perfect for tackling it as a team (even though it is only designed for one player).
The game is avaiable on Steam and can also be purchase from their website.