Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Every Monday we’ll be shedding a spotlight on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. The selections may be new or old, but all selections will be available for purchase with links at the end end of the review. This week we look at the independent video game DayZ from Bohemia Interactive.
As a lifelong gamer, there are moments throughout my life marked by singular gaming experiences. One of my first memories as a child was watching my siblings play Caveman Games on the NES which introduced the event of gaming. Then, the original Sonic the Hedgehog introduced the intensity that can be connected to the act of gaming. As a teenager, Final Fantasy VII introduced me to rich storytelling. Each of these moments stand out because they had an emotional and developmental impact on the way I understood this burgeoning digital medium. For many years, I didn’t have a new, singular gaming memory until DayZ. While this doesn’t mean that DayZ is a legendary game, it has produced a unique experience that I will remember for, hopefully, the rest of my life. DayZ introduced the complexity of human nature that can be found within a digital world. While still in Alpha, the game highlights some of the existential issues of boredom, meaning, absurdity, and human nature which leads players to create grand, self-imposed narratives.
DayZ is a post-apocalyptic, survival simulator. This identification needs to be understood if a player wants the most out of this game. The game does not provide any real objectives, so whenever a player’s character spawns on the coast of a fictional 225 square kilometer Russian territory called Chernarus with nothing but a shirt, shoes, pants, and a message telling the player how hungry he/she is, the only priority is survival. While the final version of the game will provide countless strategies for surviving, the player can currently find farming supplies (digging tool, seeds, water container, and fertilizer) to start a garden, find a cutting tool (or make a stone knife) and canned goods from the zombie infested cities scattered across the map, or hunt. As soon as the player can find these essentials, the real danger becomes present, other players.
I remember the first night I played and the first “stranger danger” moment accompanied by that experience. Just as the aforementioned games created an impression on my gaming life, the moment that my cousin and I, while scavenging a large storage shed, bumped into the first player we had ever seen. I’ll always remember the shouts of “Are you friendly!” and the adrenalin rush that followed.
In DayZ, the player is granted one life. If the player dies, the character respawns and the player must start the survival journey all over again. This large stakes mechanic makes a player question all other players. In a normal FPS, the player knows the goal is to kill as many enemies as possible, and if the player dies in the process there’s a small respawn timer that resets the fully geared player. In DayZ, going into combat makes the player risk hours, days, or weeks worth of work. I finally met my cousin after an hour of gameplay, and that encounter with a stranger might have meant retreading throughout the country side for another hour.
With our guns up, both parties ran into separate buildings and started shouting “I am friendly! Friendly, friendly, friendly! Are you friendly!?”. After the cacophony calmed, we shouted back and forth until agreeing upon terms of leaving with the understood truce that if we saw each other sneaking around, we would be forced to kill. Never in my life had I experienced that feeling in a game. But the existential questions about the game were still on the horizon.
With the lack of any long-term objective, questions of meaning and boredom start to rise up, and with it, the revelation of human nature. Once a player conquers the threat of dying from the elements, the game is relatively easy and habitual. This stage of the game leaves many players with the question, “What do I do now?” Some players decide to hide in popular areas to kill random passerbyers, but randomly killing unsuspecting players can only be fun for so long. With the lack of meaning, players started creating stories with the game. The server I play on is composed of a diversity of stories. There is the Cult of Papa, a player created group that takes players prisoner and offers seven of them up every so often. I don’t know much about them, and they seem very secretive (though you can find their videos on Youtube). Other players have created trade guilds. Since the game lacks any prescribed form of currency, this trade group offers O negative blood bags for goods and services. Other groups of players have created even darker narratives for their characters involving torture, rape, and cannibalism.
And while I used to believe that every player was a threat, narratives of community and altruism have also spawned. Players have created emergency medical groups that will drive around the very large map to fix broken legs, fight communicable diseases, and offer food, water and shelter to suffering players. The assortment of self-driven narratives guided by a search for meaning, just like in real life, creates an aura of paranoia, violence, and community. Every player encountered has the potential to ruin weeks’ worth of work or create friendships that help players shelter themselves against the rogue, violent player bandits roaming the map looking for violence to satiate their boredom.
It is important to note this game contains many glitches, bugs, some poor mechanics, and is known for its slow development, so it’s by no means perfect. But, if the player goes into the game understanding DayZ is a slow moving alpha with a lack of objectivity, I believe every player will find a unique experience, as long as they have the existential desire to create meaning within it.
DayZ is available for early access on Steam.
Review by Alex Pinnon