Artwork from Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon’s Social Implications

The way characters are treated in Darkest Dungeon reflections real world circumstances.

By: Carter Weinberg

I once killed all of my characters in Darkest Dungeon on purpose for no gameplay benefit. I did it to toughen myself up mentally.

When I first started playing Darkest Dungeon back on release day, I played it poorly. I tried to keep my characters alive. I took care of them if they became ill. I made sure that I could grow as many characters as possible thinking that those characters would grow and become strong enough to beat the game with.

But the characters cost too much for me to take care of. I soon found I could not afford to send my characters off to adventure because I spent all of my money making sure that one character got over his tetanus.

I entered a cycle of failure because of my poverty. I would send adventurers off to go get money by raiding easy dungeons, then spend the money I earned to heal the adventurers that got injured during exploration. I was going to lose this game.

I hate losing. I’m stubborn and this game annoyed me to just the right degree to start doing some research about how to beat it. I found a free guide to the game online. The guide totally changed my perspective on this game. Firstly, the guide stated, characters are the only free thing in this game. They are expendable.

Getting a new character is as simple as dragging over the characters in the stage coach to the character menu on the side.

With this new knowledge, I realized that if I wanted to beat this game I can’t treat my characters as human beings. I have to discard them if they are going to cost too much money to fix. My characters are not human beings, but a tool that becomes useless once it starts costing too much money. Human beings can always be replaced after all; my money is much harder to replace.

Characters are the only free thing in this game. They are expendable.

My fortunes in the game changed once I adopted this gameplay strategy. I started earning more money, my town grew quicker, and I started clearing dungeons with ease. I also found the game more relaxing because I did not care if my adventurers died. I can always replace them after all. There was a core group of adventurers that I tried to keep around because they grew strong enough to be useful, but they were still tools, not people.

When I ran low on money or supplies to upgrade the town, I just took some adventurers from the stage coach, threw them in the dungeon with almost no hope of survival, and then grabbed all the supplies they managed to obtain before they died or completed the dungeon. If they did complete the dungeon, I discarded them because going through the dungeon scarred them and it would cost too much money to fix.

Then I realized who the true monster of Darkest Dungeon was: me.

Then I realized who the true monster of Darkest Dungeon was: me. In order to beat this game, I had to treat human beings like disposable objects. Maybe it is theoretically possible to beat this game as a good guy by keeping your adventurers alive, but I am not good enough to do that. Frankly, it is practically impossible for almost everyone.

The Real World

Perhaps Darkest Dungeon is trying to draw parallels to Capitalism through its game mechanics. To some companies, people are treated as tools and not human beings just as the player treats NPC’s in Darkest Dungeon as disposable objects and not people.

Here are some examples. Firstly, crunching in the video games industry. Crunching is when when a video game company has its employees work overtime without extra pay and it is ubiquitous in the industry today. One developer who worked for Sega on Iron Man 2 worked 12 hour days 6 days a week for the project. As a reward for all the hard work the team put in, they were all fired a month before the game launched.

Another example is how the college I attend treats its dining hall workers poorly. Specifically, their average annual pay is only 20,520 dollars and they work 12 work shifts. These are just two examples among many.

Both the game and the real world share reasons for treating people poorly. In Darkest Dungeon, I treated my adventurers poorly because it gave me money and materials for growing my town. Mismanaging workers in the real world normally happens because of money. Crunching in the video game in industry is expected because producers need to get a product shipped in time or else they will run out of money. My college underpays workers because its cheaper to do so.

Let’s play devils advocate for a second and look at why corporations treat people this way. In the game, when I had utmost regard for human life, I lost. I ran out of money and ended up throwing away human lives for no reason. In the real world, a business may not be able to afford treating everyone well even if it wanted to. A games company has to release a game at some point, and it might be more practical to crunch for a few months than to delay the game a year.

Still, treating people this way is awful. There needs to be a reasonable compromise between a company saving money and being realistic, and people living respectable and human lives. These two ideal worlds are not always in conflict either. Sometimes treating people with respect and not overworking them makes them more likely to contribute quality work. In the real world there is no reason that people need to be treated poorly for a company to succeed whereas the game requires it.

In the real world there is no reason that people need to be treated poorly for a company to succeed whereas the game requires it.

Capitalism is often treated as a system where there is one winner and a bunch of losers. But capitalism with a proper set of regulations and a good amount of human decency can be a force for good in the world. The operative words here are “can be” and currently the real world is somewhere between my ideal version of capitalism and Darkest Dungeon’s version of it.

Darkest Dungeon is, of course, a game. Treating people poorly in the real world has real world consequences, whereas treating people poorly in the game doesn’t. In other words, I felt bad killing off my own characters in the game, but I also have to earn money. I have to acquire more gear and supplies, I have to upgrade my buildings, and finally, I have to win. In other words, I feel bad about treating people poorly, but not that bad.

I feel bad about treating people poorly, but not that bad.

Darkest Dungeon is set in a grim lovecraftian horrific world, but it has many parallels to the modern one. Specifically how capitalism can encourage the worst in us. It can make us see people as objects to be used, and not nurtured.

At least in Darkest Dungeon, you are fighting an evil horde of demons, undead, and monsters. Perhaps the sacrifice and mistreatment of people is for some greater good. But in the real world, there is no archenemy, only profits.