One thing that pops up in most conversations I have seems to be is this hypothetical questioning of what and how we would do in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the shambling corpses of the undead.
Now like many others, I believe that when faced with the overwhelming odds of a zombie horde, I would actually do quite well. Well that was until recently. My experiences with the current Day Z mod for Arma 2 has made me question not just the idea of my own skill and survival strategies, but also the very basics of trust and fellowship that hold us together in these situations.
To best describe my experience in Day Z would be to reference Max Brooks Zombie Survival Guide.
“The biggest threat you can face is other humans.”
Interestingly enough in Day Z, it gets to a point where you become less concerned about zombies and more worried about where the other players are or what they are planning on doing. The point being, your survival can be affected depending on their actions.
The real point to this game comes from the fact that death is permanent, so when coming under fire you feel a real threat and fear from it. So every chance meeting, or even a glimpse of another player sets your heart racing. Every little noise can cause you panic and untold worry that perhaps this is it; this is the time where you get cut down. Do you dare open up to another player and let them help you out? The problem is, do they see you the same way you see them?
Trust is a rare thing to find in a game, the knowledge that if you come across other players that it could help or hinder you. Should you go for that extra risk of trusting them and letting them in on your experience, or stay on your own. Most other games lump you with a CPU controlled sidekick who you instantly trust because the game reassures you that they’re friendly.
Day Z doesn’t do this. There is no backstory to any characters you meet so the only thing you have is the first impression of someone, and that’s normally of them pointing a gun at you. How can you put your trust in this person you’ve only just met? In all likelihood they are asking themselves that exact same question.
I’ll explain an incident that caused me to question not only this problem of trusting others, but also how my own perception of an apocalypse was changed for good.
Numerous times in the game I had seen other players and approached them as friendly, only for them to notice what items I was carrying and they immediately opened fire. It resulted in me having this constant fear of other people in the game. I began to really wonder if I would ever find a like minded soul to share my journey with. However, not long after raiding a store for supplies I suddenly spied a larger building across the street. Unsure if I was a completely alone, I grudgingly began searching the building for more gear, but I had only just walked through the doorway of the first room when I froze in place. A loud metallic click confirmed my fear.
I was not alone. Out of the corner of the screen I made out another player crouched behind the doorway with a crossbow levelled at my head. He warned me not to move or he would fire, fear set in and I shifted uncomfortably on the spot. A loud thud signalled a warning shot into the wall behind my head. I reassured him I didn’t plan on doing anything and that all I had on me was my trusty axe. Panicking I lied saying that I was not alone, suggesting a possible alliance. After a long drawn out silence he agreed, but warned he was keeping an eye on me.
Stepping out into the hall I a thought suddenly hit me and sheer impulse took over, I no longer saw him as another person but as someone carrying something I wanted. But before I could stop, I had swung my axe straight into my new friend’s neck. He turned accusingly and fired off another bolt, it went wide and buried itself in a nearby desk, and I frantically swung again and again until he lay there motionless. The one person I had met who seemed friendly and I had murdered him. It was like 1996 all over again.
Suddenly a horrible thought struck me, what had I looked like to this poor guy? He had been hiding in this building from other players, fearing what I myself had been terrified of since the beginning. The thought of someone else coming along and ruining all he had worked for.
He had fled to a room hiding in the corner afraid, then suddenly someone had emerged into his tiny sanctuary with a large axe. Promising friendship and safety, only for his trust to be broken as his new found friend buried his weapon into his one vulnerable area he had bared to him.
In such a short time I had become like everyone else, a selfish monster only out for his own, I had taken that one idea of trust that I had been concerned over since starting the game and I had corrupted it utterly. I had become just another number in the vast lonely landscape, I realised what an apocalypse was really about, it wasn’t about working together through hardships, it was about simply surviving and ensuring your own personnel continuation.
No game has ever made me realise this, and I’m an avid fan of these kinds of games, the Fallout and Left4Dead series to name a few. In such a short time I had gone against my own personal beliefs and it really shook me up. To such an extent that I haven’t actually played the game in the same way again. I no longer fear other players; instead I worry about what can happen if I let myself go. I will always have that incident in the building as a constant reminder of what can happen if you completely fall into the idea of survival of the most devious. But the idea that it took just one small incident to make me really question the fact that, is there such a thing as trust in these kind of games?
Day Z is making an impact on the gaming community. I for one welcome the change of pace, if other publishers can work on making players question their ideals then we won’t have anymore games with sidekicks that are crowbarred in for the sake of not letting the player feel alone.