This weekend I played Dwarf Fortress until the sun came up. Again.
I don’t know why this keeps happening when I play Dwarf Fortress. On Saturday evening, after I got back from my boyfriend’s place and had thrown my laundry in the washing machine, I was alone in my apartment and not in the mood to go out. So I decided to finally get in some uninterrupted Dwarf Fortress time. It was around 10 p.m., so I thought I’d go to bed at around 2 a.m., given that it was the weekend and I could sleep in the next day. Then I blinked, and it was four in the morning. Then, I blinked again, and birds were chirping. The sun was filtering through my west-facing window.
Every single time I play Dwarf Fortress, I end up staying up all night. I don’t even feel tired while I play. It doesn’t register to me that time is passing. I’m just trying to get all my industries up and running and make sure there aren’t too many puppies. In the moment, I always think that whatever is next on my to-do list will only take a second. And it always takes hours.
At 4 a.m. after I had my first big realization about the passage of time (but still decided to just play “a little more”), I began to analyze the ways that this game keeps getting me. I was trying to get my military up and running, because once you hit a population of eighty dwarves, you’ll get attacked by goblins. As I was doing that, I was also trying to make sure I had enough bedrooms and beds. Beds can only be made of wood, so I had to send out a few dwarves to chop down trees and haul the logs inside. While that was happening, my mason ran out of stone, so I spent some time designating areas to mine in the lower levels of my fortress. While that was happening, I realized that my brewer had abandoned the sill, leaving the fortress dangerously low on alcohol, so I built two more and made sure I had work orders for perpetual brewing and perpetual food production. As I was trying to sort out all these minor problems, it hit 6am, and the goblins arrived. At that point, I couldn’t leave my poor dwarves alone to deal with that another day. Obviously, the goblins had to be dealt with right away.
I was a few months into the siege, with the drawbridge to the fortress closed and the military stationed right next to them, when I realized that I needed to just go the hell to bed. The dull light of dawn was filtering through my window, and I knew that if I wanted to take what at that point should more appropriately be termed a nap, I had to stop and get in bed right at that moment. But it was still so hard to tear myself away. Right before turning it off, I spent a couple more minutes loading a retired version of my fortress into Legends mode to look at all the historical figures and books that the game had randomly generated.
Part of what’s so intoxicating about Dwarf Fortress is that the game is wholly yours. I had actually generated three worlds until I found one with a suitable site to embark; the first two all had aquifers in the areas where the evil and savagery stats were low enough that I could still feel confident about sending my dwarves there. While you make those worlds, the game is generating not only the environment, but the history of the world, its deities, its musical forms and poetry, the significant figures in its history and the wars in which they die. As you play in that world, your actions build upon that history, one that is entirely unique to your game. In a world so special, tailored just for me, I need everything to be absolutely perfect, and that means that before I do anything, I have to think about it for ten minutes and then scour the Dwarf Fortress wiki to prepare for the strategies that the game will throw at me. These dwarves’ lives are in my hands, and one wrong move could mean that all my efforts will be lost to the sands of this fictional world’s time.
Dwarf Fortress is dangerous for players like me who cannot resist the siren call of “one more thing before I stop playing.” It may also be the secret to time travel. You be the judge.