Who am I, really? DayZ Provides that Answer.
It was a very interesting weekend. I think I elevated my sloth skill to the next level, if not to the next tier. My wife and I cooked a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves and a friend on Thursday. She took care of the turkey, and I did all the fixings including dressing (stuffing is gross, sorry), a salad (I refuse to have greater than 25% lettuce, so my salads are very hearty), mashed potatoes (from scratch with LOTS of butter), gravy, and sweet potato soufflé (wordpress doesn’t recognize that word?). However, after the cooking and cleaning, I did no work the rest of the weekend. It was pretty glorious.
On top of that, the latest Steam sale caught me at a vulnerable moment. My buddy is back home after having a toe removed and being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, but he’s in high spirits and looking to improve his lifestyle and “beat diabetes.” To quote him regarding the Steam sale: “I don’t know which will be higher: my hospital bill or my Steam bill.” And I bought more than he did.
The purchase relevant to today’s post was long in coming. I saw a comic on Penny Arcade months ago regarding the ARMA II mod DayZ, and I was intrigued but already busy playing other games. The same’s not true now. My buddy has tired of GW2, and while I still log on and play now and again, without him, much of the core gaming time is gone. He decided he was ready to give DayZ a try, so we did. There was a fair share of downloading and getting ready – more so for my buddy who needed some graphics information to get it to run well (he had a few early “zombies spawning on top of me” situations, but those have been largely resolved).
It took a while just to figure out how the server system worked and so forth, but once we really got going, it was quite an interesting experience. We have both died repeatedly, of course, but we’ve learned a lot along the way. More interestingly, though, was how the game revealed a lot about ourselves. For those of you (the 1 or 2) that aren’t familiar with the game, it’s a “realistic” post-apocalyptic zombie horror survival game. It’s on a large map (about 250 sq Km), but you’re not provided with the map to start. In fact, you’re provided with very little; a flashlight and a bandage are it, if I remember correctly. You have to feed and hydrate yourself at regular intervals, which requires salvaging into buildings, and the formerly populated areas are swarming with zombies who react to sound and sight pretty realistically; shooting a gun in the middle of a town means you’ll have 50 zombies on your butt pretty quickly.
It’s a completely different kind of gameplay than I’ve experienced in a long time – if not ever. I mentioned Tenchu: Stealth Assassin the other day, and it may again be my best match. Both games require a lot of patience and observation. Rushing in and not looking around first are guaranteed ways to get killed – if not by zombies, then by other players.
That brings us back to the questions about who we really are. Of course, I’ll preface that by saying that yes, it’s just a game, and people will behave differently in a virtual world than in the real one, but still, there’s certainly something about the game that brings out a lot about a person. Meeting other survivors is always fraught with peril; one mistake and you could have two dead players. There’s a location-based in-game chat that allows you to speak directly to people around you, which is vital to your survival at times. I’ve had three run-ins with other survivors, all of which went vastly differently.
My first encounter with another survivor was an odd one, but it revealed this to me: I’m not just a killer. I was in a barn when I heard – of all things – a helicopter outside. I didn’t even know they were in the game, so I laid low. Sure enough, it landed and someone in very good gear came in. I had a shotgun, maybe, but not much else. I hid and told them I was friendly and not looking for trouble, but to please not approach me. They said they were looking for gas, which there wasn’t any in the barn, so they took a look around and left. They did approach me, though, and I repeated my request for them not to. There, I could have shot, I could have run and hid further. I could have just kept quiet and let them do whatever they would do. It was foolishly dangerous, to be frank. They could have ended me then and there, but I took a chance and it worked out.
My second encounter with a survivor did not go as smoothly, but it did reveal to me that while I may not be a killer, I’m not just a victim, either. I was, again, in a barn. I seem to spend a lot of time there, since I avoid the big cities. I had seen another survivor outside and avoided them. There’s a dichotomy there: speak out and reveal that you’re around or stay quiet and potentially have a problem. Perhaps I should have called out, but I didn’t. I stayed hidden. I crept to the barn; it seemed the other survivor was having zombie issues and running away. After getting into the barn, I found a rifle and armed myself. No sooner, though, did the other survivor enter the barn. I don’t know if they saw me or not; I ducked behind some boxes, but I wasn’t completely hidden. The other survivor went the other way. I’d noted another gun on the opposite landing, but I didn’t have time to go check it out. The other survivor picked up the gun and immediately faced me with it.
I didn’t know what to do, so I shot. I was being drawn down on by an unknown entity, so I blasted them. I’m not proud of that, but at the moment it felt like I had little choice. To be honest, I’m not even sure if the other player knew I was there before they turned to face me, but a second later and I might have been dead. I don’t know what changed in me between my first and second encounters with survivors, but certainly something did. Maybe I was more taken by surprise. Maybe it was the silence that was broken in the first scenario and not the second. Maybe I just got a little trigger happy and scared. I’m not sure, but I walked out of the second barn, and the other survivor didn’t.
All of this was before my buddy and I finally got together; it’s a big map, so it can take some time to finally meet. When we did, things got much easier as we were able to watch each others’ backs. That wasn’t enough, though, in our last encounter, which ended as badly as it could. We’d come out of a cow shed, and I saw a helicopter crash in the distance. This is a thing of legend; it’s akin to finding a netherdrake egg back in BC. There’s about 3 crash sites per server reset, and they can be at one of 100 sites on the map. To come upon one at all is a small chance, but for multiple groups to converge on a single one at the same time is very, very unlikely. Unlikely in Dayz often means death.
I started carefully towards the crash and got shot; I didn’t see the other survivor. He only winged me, though, so I turned and bolted back into the shed. Sure enough, the military zombies heard him and I had no problem tracking his progress as he fled. Keeping an eye on him, my buddy and I carefully moved towards the crash; I had decided I wanted to take a closer look and perhaps teach that person a lesson about shooting people for no reason.
The other survivor fled, so my buddy and I were left with the Zeds. We set up a strategy to shoot zombies back and forth so those that responded could be dealt with by the other person. It worked okay, but it was a little hairy. Then, the real problems started. As my buddy and I dispatched the last zombie, a new survivor – not the shooter from before – sprinted to the crash to steal my goodies. Primal instincts took over. Territoriality. Jealousy. Violence. I blasted him.
That’s when I made my big mistake. He was down but not out, so I moved in to kill him. Seconds after I shot him, I received a crippling blow from a sniper who had remained hidden from both my buddy and I this entire time. It was not the earlier shooter, though, but another person. I suspect he and my victim were working in tandem, but he simply had better gear – either a better rig that could see further or a better gun with which to shoot. I was alive, but not really. I got under cover and went to bandage myself, but the crouch exposed me too much and I was killed.
I told my buddy to hide and wait for the sniper to show up, but my buddy doesn’t hide well. The sniper got eyes on him and after asking if he was friendly – which my buddy didn’t know how to respond to despite the fact I’d told him how to before and told him to familiarize himself with the controls – shot him.
It was a good run, and I surprisingly wasn’t particularly frustrated about how it had ended. I made several mistakes. First, I should have just avoided the chopper; we had decent weapons and plenty of food and water; we didn’t need to take that risk. My buddy even said that, but I pushed to “explore and experience.” Second, I shouldn’t have just shot the looter; I should have negotiated; I had him pinned, after all, behind the helo. Third, I shouldn’t have revealed my position to the sniper. That was by far the most foolish mistake I made, but in the “heat of battle,” I didn’t stop and think. My brain was running on vengeance and fear, and it didn’t make sense that there would be a fifth person (out of 50 on a server) converging on this same tiny site on a gigantic map at the exact same moment.
And that’s how the game works – more so than perhaps any game I’ve played in a long time, it teaches you to think. It immerses you in a foreign environment and you learn or you die – and often, both. That’s its crowning glory; it may be very rough around the edges (it’s in alpha version), it may have clunky grouping mechanisms, it may have buggy items and npcs at times, but the gameplay is so foreign to what I’ve become accustomed to that it’s extremely refreshing, even when you fail. In fact, that you can fail at all feels refreshing.
Stubborn (and careless, but learning)