I rise and study the land before me. The waves of the ocean behind are a soundtrack, a salty rhythm accompanying my own heavy breathing. Running was not on my agenda today.
The wind sticks to the sweat on my forehead, cooling my face and tussling my hair like a breezy aunt. Looking down, I see the tatters of the clothes I’m wearing. I don’t know how I escaped death. I don’t know when my luck will run dry. All I know is the long road ahead, winding round the coast and disappearing behind a crest.
Then, a surprise sight fills my heart with glee. A small cabin, open and inviting. Its dilapidation a thing of beauty. Its broken roof, a veritable stronghold.
As I enter, I feel weak. The grumble of my stomach competing with the grumble of the dead I can hear outside, closing in on my location. Slow but eventual. As I grasp my gut, pregnant with hunger, I take no solace in my desperation as I see it on the table.
“It’s cat food time,” I think.
Yes, I really am this pretentious
So, I’ve been replaying DayZ recently. Perhaps because of the latest update. Perhaps because I was starting to miss the baffling sensation of being able to hold a virtual potato in my hand but also not being able to eat it for some reason (it’s not raw, it’s rustic).
The introduction at the top represents an average experience for me in fictional Chernarus, though typically with more cholera. Bohemia Interactive’s decision to lean more towards realistic survival elements in this zombie survival game makes DayZ one of the more challenging releases in the genre.
But it says so much more than its surface narrative, which thrusts players into an abandoned world of apocalyptic collapse. The undead stalk the ghost towns and streets of this post-Soviet republic. No, I think the game is (unintentionally) holding a mirror up to my own real existence.
Which direction should I go in?
When starting a new playthrough in DayZ, it’s difficult to know where to head. Now, I’ve died and started over many times, yet I still don’t know the correct thing to do in the beginning. Do I immediately look for the nearest building to seek food and other items, knowing the outskirts are less yielding? Do I somehow attempt to book it for the major towns where supplies are plentiful, but so are the zombies?
In any case, what I typically end up doing is leisurely jogging along an empty road like I’m in a nutritional breakfast ad. Eventually, I’ll happen upon a branching path. The main road will continue, almost certain to lead to a more populated area. However, the lure of the side road is hard to resist. What’s up there? Will this take me to food or weapons any quicker?
There are many forks in life, but it’s hard to know which is the best one to take. No doubt there are some I should have gone down when given the chance, but ended up somewhere else. There are many choices, but all will lead one way: forward. However, invariably, many of them will end with a sense of existential regret and/or a zombie bite to the face (metaphorically…maybe).
Everyone is out to get ya
Business rivals, vengeful neighbors, salespeople, politicians so morally twisted you could repurpose them as fusilli pasta…we all encounter those who don’t have our best interests at heart. DayZ gives those people guns. Or at least the option to scavenge them. Which they do. With gusto, it seems.
Now, this isn’t really anything new in a survival game. Rust is notorious for having players that are a little too trigger-happy. I also stopped playing 7 Days to Die on multiplayer because in a zombie apocalypse, the zombies should be the biggest threat (unless it’s trying to be a scathing takedown on humanity’s violent nature).
I’m always a little bewildered that a world torn apart at the seams and everyone resetting to zero doesn’t result in more attempts to work together. Whatever happened to community spirit?
Am I reading too much into this? I’m sure there are people out there who have bonded with others and are taking on zombies (and others) as the unstoppable unit they are. But I don’t know where these people are…because I’m busy dodging the frantic bullets of a random human who seemingly doesn’t know the meaning of “no, I don’t want an extended warranty, thank you!”
Small victories are actually big victories
There’s a saying about how some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I know how much a tin of tuna costs, but it’s only when I see it in DayZ as my hunger meter flashes red that I truly appreciate tuna’s worth.
When my character is starving, I’m surprised by my own desperation. I’d eat tree bark if the game let me. Fuck it. I’d eat at a Wetherspoons [pause for gasps from readers]. So let me tell you that when I find a small can of brisket spread or some floor zucchini, it’s no small feat. Or…it’s a testament to how bad I am at the game.
Either way, I quickly learned to celebrate the small things in DayZ. Whether it’s finding a hat that offers more warmth or five bullets for that worn out pistol I’ve been carrying around for two days, there is no sweeter feeling than being given a tiny leg up. The tiny leg I fracture as I drop from a relatively short height.
I lack even the most basic of survival skills
What’s likely become apparent to many of you reading this is that I’m not very good at DayZ. I’m not in the community, so I don’t know how common it is to suck at a zombie game this hard. But this is just a reflection of how I am as a person outside this crazy world we call gaming. I am, for want of a better word, inept when it comes to survival.
Now, I live in the countryside. We’re not exactly isolated, but it’s been quite the shift from central urban environments with plenty of amenities around. Though I’ve adjusted quite well to living far away, I still quite miss shops, pubs, accessible public transport, and my friends.
But were you to leave me in the wilderness – à la DayZ-style – I would find myself unbearably out of my comfort zone. I’m sure I’m not alone in that thinking, but it doesn’t take long to realize that, should an outbreak of the undead occur, I would have no idea how to sustain myself without the conveniences I depend on every day.
In the game, it’s possible to repair a car, build a base, craft weapons and items, and stave off hunger with all manner of found sustenance (I can cook, but not live-chicken-to-table cook). With these essential survival skills lacking, it’s obvious I would not fare well were society to collapse. You know what I can do? I can write vaguely entertaining articles. Handy that in a world that’s experiencing disaster.
I mean…this is just me in general.