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Analysis, reviews, and essays on Don't Starve.

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Hello everyone, 

Could you please recommend any analysis, criticism, reviews, breakdowns, or essays about Don't Starve?

I would truly appreciate any sources and contributions - anything that examines and interprets the game and its core themes in an interesting way. 

For context - I'm currently doing research for an academic paper I'm writing on the topic of The Modern Robinsonade and Survivalism in Fiction. It's more focused on literature, but also examines film, video games, and other media related to the genre. 

Don't Starve seemed particularly interesting to me, not just because its premise seems a lot closer to the Robinsonade tradition, but because of how clearly it stands out among other games of the survival genre. 

I plan to include a few different video games as examples (Long Dark, Minecraft, and Subnautica being the most prominent among them)

What surprised me is that Don't Starve, although definitely not less popular than any of these other games, has generated a lot less discussion and investigation. And the discussion that DST has produced seems more focused on the game's mechanics, rather than examining it as a work of art. 

I've managed to find a few video essays and short written analyses, but not anything too notable, which is why I'm turning to this forum. I am sure that there are many sources I've missed, as I'm not too familiar with the online space surrounding this game. 

Honestly, any contribution is appreciated. Even if you just want to offer your own view of the game, share your interpretation, thoughts, or feelings on it - it would all mean a lot. 

Thanks to everyone. 

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I don't have any sources for creative essays or videos when it comes to Don't Starve unfortunately, except for my own view; which, should be taken with a grain of salt. Here's my best attempt at an essay based on the personal perspective of a long-time fan of the franchise.

To me, Don't Starve never really represented the more literal aspect of survival in the same way we may think about or experience in real life. Sure, there's hunger and your own health to worry about, as well as a variety of environmental obstacles to combat such as weather and fending off the wildlife, but none that parallel real life quite the same way. Many of the obstacles you may face in the real world include such intricacy in how you apply yourself in the environment around you that I would argue almost no game can truly immerse the player without some serious tedium. Infections/treatment of injuries, cooking/proper nutrition (you can actually die on a full stomach if you're not careful), thirst, hunting, navigating the various flora/fauna, and so much more. There is, however, one aspect of survival-ism that I feel Don't Starve as a narrative hits home more than any other fictional survival scenario. Sanity.

The sheer depth and impact of the human mind as well as the depiction of it in the characters that fit within the narrative is astoundingly faithful compared to real life. Most survival media rarely show the impact of being isolated for an extended period of time, or even the insurmountable (and often shared) grief that groups of survivors feel when facing the harshness of the environment the same way Don't Starve does.

From a story perspective, Don't Starve's characters come from a variety of different backgrounds and all have found themselves thrust upon this environment without intention, now having to scrape together a life out in the Constant. They don't scream out into the Wilderness, they don't gnash their teeth and foam at the mouth, and they don't bicker and fight amongst themselves (well, at least not that much); they accept their fate and work together to construct some, if any, life out in the harshness of the Constant. Life in this wilderness isn't easy or fun, but they make the best of it and prepare for the next day.

From a game perspective, to me, Don't Starve's sanity aspect more-so involves the player themselves. True your character may react to things like going insane, starving, freezing, or even overheating, but the majority of the stress of the game falls upon the heads of the players that have to navigate these troubles themselves. Countless times I stopped playing because I couldn't mentally handle the current situation and came back with a plan, and many more times I truly did not know what my next move should be, which costed me valuable time. In my humble opinion, Don't Starve impacts the players themselves in such a way that takes the "control" from them and makes them earn the freedom of rest that most other games give freely. In those games, you not only survive you thrive; in this game, unless you know exactly what to do, you will never truly thrive.

Don't Starve has its own unique take on these aspects of survival and exaggerates it to fit within the theme of the game, and despite not being entirely faithful to real life, Don't Starve's charm derives from a lot of the unique interactions you may experience outside the bounds of what's possible; shadows, monsters, magic and alchemy are just a few examples that come to mind. The macabre feeling of this game, as well as the unique storytelling aspect paired with amazing game-play is what sold this game to me, and still does. The sanity element that Don't Starve uniquely implements, both on a narrative level as well as a gameplay level, only adds to that experience in a way that can seldom be seen anywhere else in fiction.

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Zeklo did some really cool analysis and overview of the story of the game, it’s a bit behind the new updates now but it’s probably a good start, and worth checking his videos 

This is more of the story behind the game itself, i think it’s interesting to know the reasoning behind the design choices

Also there was an old video showing the devs themselves talking about how the game was made, why was the community input so important for them and why they decided to makea game where there were no “holding hands” which I can’t find ATM but will keep checking.

I also really enjoyed this analysis from a psychological point of view, where they used Dont starve as an example

I’m not sure if this is the kind of material you are looking for, but I think they give a broad view of the game itself

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I am not sure how to reply to people individually on this forum - but I wanted to thank everyone who answered. 

Owlrust especially - thank you so much for writing so thoroughly and sincerely about your view of the game - it means a lot, especially coming from a long-time fan of the series. 

And all of the videos linked here so far are great resources, even if only a few of them were new to me. 

I honestly didn't expect such a good response. Thanks again to anyone who contributed. 

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Since I've mentioned some material I have previously found on this topic, I thought it would be nice to include a few links to what I've gathered for anyone interested. 

Sorry that this thread is basically becoming a Don't Starve reading list, which probably isn't going to be especially interesting to people who aren't writing an 80+ page paper on this subject. 


  • Bound to the Board: Interpreting Theme in Klei's "Don't Starve"


This video is probably one of the more thorough breakdowns I've seen of this game. While it's definitely not a perfect examination (and honestly, not even one I would agree with), it does approach the game in a way that very few other analyses do. 

The video examines themes like agency, power, western colonialism, and the inherent cruelty of nature (all of which are foundational to the survival genre), in addition to a lot of other topics.


  • Starving for Knowledge: A Don't Starve Analysis


A fairly thorough thread on some of DST's lore, though it's definitely more focused on the game's worldbuilding, this text also contains some interesting thoughts on DST's themes and influences. 


  • The Long Dark and Don’t Starve: Turning Time into a Resource


While not exclusively about DST, this video offers a good perspective on how the game utilizes timing.


  • This Psychological Trick Makes Rewards Backfire - Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards in Klei’s latest game: Don’t Starve



A fascinating look into how the game utilizes the psychology behind player rewards, as well as a valuable record of Don't Starve's early stages of development. 

Thanks to ShadowDuelist for linking the video previously. I think the original blog post by Jamie Cheng that the analysis is based on is also very interesting, and definitely deserving of being included next to the video.


  • Online journalism and reviews of Don't Starve: 


Destructoid / Review by Fraser Brown, 2013 - https://www.destructoid.com/reviews/review-dont-starve/

Rock Paper Shotgun / Review by Alec Meer, 2013 - https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/dont-starve-review

Game Informer / Review by Jeff Marchiafava, 2013 - https://www.gameinformer.com/games/dont_starve/b/pc/archive/2013/04/26/dont-starve-review-a-life-and-death-struggle-without-a-point.aspx


Although there isn't much to be found here in terms of meaningful critical examination or discussion of the game, reviews like these can be useful for gauging a general opinion, in addition to personal experiences and interpretations. 


  • Behind The Game: 


There are also quite a few sources documenting the game's development, as well as blog posts and interviews with Klei's game designers themselves, describing both the process and the influences and intentions behind Don't Starve. 


  • Don't Starve: Creating Community Around an Antisocial Game



  • How Don’t Starve Was Made and Why The Devs Had Heated Discussions



  • Before & After Don't Starve - The History of Klei Entertainment



  • Interview with Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants’ Seth Rosen

Part 1 - https://n4g.com/user/blogpost/indiemonth/528284

Part 2 - https://n4g.com/user/blogpost/indiemonth/528283


  • Don't Starve: Klei's grand experiment


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2 hours ago, PandoPon said:
36 minutes ago, GamePlayer42 said:

swanky's video is one of my favourite anlysis on this game so i reccomend the op to check this one out

Thanks for the recommendation! I absolutely agree that it's probably one of the best analyses of DST - I've even included it at the top of my list of sources previously in the thread. It definitely approaches the game from a  more investigative perspective, closest to literary analysis.

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I might add a comment if I have time. I'll never forget my first time playing it and the subsequent initial sessions. For a 2d video game it has impressive atmosphere, my fears were very real and tangible.    I particularly remember an early game when two of us heard strange noises in a cave, we were both horrified and ran for our lives. To this day I still don't know what that sound is, it was not depth worms, one of the creepiest sounds ever

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