Devotees of this blog (thanks mom!) will know of my suspicions regarding the inevitability of the zombie apocalypse. Naturally, I’m drawn to games that might provide me with the competitive edge when it comes to the dark times ahead. But I’ve been disappointed in the offerings on tap – they’re just too forgiving. I mean, it’s great that Fallout is comfortable with the idea that people are chilling and trading bottlecaps to each other after the nuclear war, but I’m thinking it’s more likely that people will just spend most of their time slaughtering everything that moves. I need to be prepared. But where to look?
DayZ. That’s where.
DayZ is a mod for the game Arma 2, a highly realistic first person shooter. Arma is one of those games that takes itself pretty seriously, to the point where it strips out a lot of the cute mechanics that other games rely on to drive engagement/retention. I passed up the initial release of the game, largely because I needed some diversity in my gaming diet, but I couldn’t resist the siren call of a bad ass zombie apocalypse emulator.
The mod itself is in pretty rough shape. It’s a pretty big hassle to locate and install. It doesn’t have a lot of the typical amenities like pre-designated groups or easy to understand UI. But you know what it does have? A hyper-realistic experience that puts you into the shoes of a person facing the end of times. It’s hardcore. Very very hardcore.
First and foremost is the scarcity. You get one gun and it’s nigh impossible to locate another one. Even if you find a gun, you still need to stumble across ammo of the right type – good luck with that. Meanwhile you’re growing hungry and thirsty, meaning you have to find food and water. Of course, walking out into the rain causes your body temperature to drop, meaning you need to find a heat source. All of this needs to be done without attracting the attention of ANYTHING. A single zombie on your trail can mean death. Other players are worse than the zombies.
The result is you crawling around for hours in pitch black darkness (seriously, you can’t see anything) trying to gather enough items to survive. Alas, the items worth gathering only spawn in a few select locations which are typically in the middle of large cities infested with zombies and other players looking to pick you off. Everything terrifies you. Here’s an excerpt from a recent session I had with friends while we were all on Skype:
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“I heard something.”
“Oh shit! It’s a zombie!”
“OH DEAR LORD, IT’S CHEWING MY FACE. SOMEONE SHOOT IT.”
“I GOT IT”
“YOU SHOT ME YOU DICK. WTF?”
“DEAR LORD…THE BLOOD. WHY IS THERE SO MUCH BLOOD?”
“IT’S STILL CHEWING MY FACE. OH THE HUMANITY.” *GURGLE GURGLE.*
“He’s dead Jim. He’s dead.”
After the zombie threat passed (with some unfortunate casualties), we were immediately decimated by another player who had been attracted by the sound of gun fire. Blam, 2 hours of work down the drain.
It’s one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time.
The Element of Risk
I think I enjoy the game so much because everything I do seems so deeply meaningful. Each choice I make, right down to how I cross the street, can have a tremendous impact on my odds of survival. A single poor decision and I’m doomed, along with the people unfortunate enough to be traveling with me (assuming I haven’t already turned on them for their sweet sweet ammo). I love that a lapse in judgment can eliminate hard work. The presence of risk makes the game come to life.
DayZ does a great job of heightening the risk and forcing you to make decisions. By depleting your resources constantly through hunger mechanics, you’re never afforded the luxury of permanent shelter. Every movement is a step toward your own demise. This results in a lot of frantic deliberation among friends as they try to divine the course of action that will extend your miserable existence. This strikes me as a type of gaming that has been lost to the sands of time.
At some point, an economist ran the numbers and determined that more people play a game when there is no risk attached. Some calculation showed that people liked things easy, that they didn’t like to be challenged in their entertainment. That it was better to never risk alienating your users by creating meaningful consequences around their actions. DayZ harkens back to the early days of gaming when death meant game over, not respawn in 3 seconds. I crave this manner of gaming. Suffice to say, I’ll be sticking with DayZ for a while, and it’s my distinct hope to see more of the same into the future.
JM: I’m happy you’re happy! But for me, that sounds annoying and waste of time. I’m not a fan of games that mimic the real world. It’s like the epiphany I had watching Lost, in which I decided that I don’t let people tease me like this in real life, so why would I choose this as my entertainment? Similarly, I don’t play games that have me walking through corridors, since I do that at work. And anything that seems like work needs to pay me. Granted I’m not shooting zombies in the real world, but I’d get more fun out of a top down action RPG to maximize my view and thrill. Having said all that, I appreciate the innovation, and I’m glad there are still people making things that are thoroughly original.