The Dwarf Fortress Brothers and their Counter-Cultural Contentment

The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating article about Dwarf Fortress, and what makes it such a unique and compelling game, with input from a number of people including our own editor-in-chief, Chris Dahlen. 

Really, though, the story focuses less on the game itself and more on the fascinating lives of the brothers responsible for it, in particular their stubborn refusal to live up to cultural expectations – an outlook that bleeds into the game:

In 2007, when Tarn left Texas and moved back to Washington, he lived at home before moving to Silverdale. “I wanted to be close to Zach,” he says, to collaborate more easily on the game and because Zach, who worked after graduation in an warehouse and as a stevedore, was “going through some stuff.” Zach, who alluded to past problems with alcohol (he no longer drinks), told me his marriage of two years had collapsed; neither brother wished to comment further. Zach’s background in ancient history often helps in devising the imagery that gives Dwarf Fortress its atmosphere. For example, goblins hang the skin of conquered foes from towers, a gnarly detail the brothers got from a book on the Assyrians that Zach recommended.

When the weather permits, the brothers take walks along a trail that wends over marshland past plastic picnic tables near State Route 3. They watch crime procedurals at their parents’ house and follow a one-meal-a-day rule (most local restaurants are open for just a few hours after Tarn wakes up), which can mean Quiznos, a turkey sandwich from the supermarket or root-beer popsicles and handfuls of dry Crispix (Tarn is lactose intolerant).

Tarn has been single since graduate school, when he dated a Cisco systems administrator for a short time. I asked him whether he wanted children. “I don’t mind the idea of never having kids,” he said. “I want to stay focused on the game, and if I had kids, I’d wind up paying attention to them instead.”


-Richard Clark