The Lean Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is primarily interesting for the way its gameplay reproduces the business conditions in which it comes to exist. It's about dungeon crawling, yes, but what it's really doing is teaching the player to manage waste in a Lean startup.

Lean is a manufacturing doctrine that originated in Japan. In this context, waste is ruthlessly defined as any process that does not produce value for the customer. Unsurprisingly, Lean has become one of the organizing narratives for software development in the past ten years. But dungeon crawling? Should we really approach dungeon crawling as if it's a startup? Consider, if you will, the original 7 muda, or "wastes to be eliminated":


In Darkest Dungeon, simply moving into a dungeon will, in 100% of cases, result in degradation of the product's value.


Characters that are inactive are dead stock. They do not produce value for the customer and are therefore inherently waste. Ideally all characters should either be in a dungeon or in stress relief (but anyone who has played the game knows that managing this impossible condition is what Darkest Dungeon is all about).


In a dungeon, moving through rooms in a suboptimal way is pure waste. "Explore 90% of rooms? Okay then, pick the best route.


Wait a week before retrieving a character who is in stress relief or various other cures. "Unavailability for selection" is a real problem in Darkest Dungeon.


Upgrading your town buildings or characters beyond what is strictly required will almost always get you in trouble. You will end up waltzing through battles you could have won anyway, while diverting your own resources away from stress relief. (See above.)


In Darkest Dungeon, over-production means generating too many provisions. Remember the feeling you get the first time you set out for the dungeon with 18 rations, 16 torches, and 4 shovels? (You know what I mean.)


The characters incur defects as a matter of course. This unpredictability requires vast amounts of rescheduling and rework. The Dungeontology is such that being in the world is a kind of defect in and of itself.