All I want to do in life is play NEO Scavenger. In those moments when I’m unable to play, all I want to do is tell other people about NEO Scavenger. It’s an RPG in which you flit from scrabbling around abandoned mobile homes in search of the barest necessities of life, to uncovering a complex, well-written, Fallout-style world. As you start it over and over again, choosing new skills and finding new paths with each new beginning, you’ll discover that there’s no need to ever repeat yourself and that the one constant is the inevitability of your own crummy demise. I’ve written about its swell depiction of failure before, but this week I started a new project.
I’ve been playing one session of NEO Scavenger per day: one life, one death. Here are the week’s endings.
November 17th, Hypothermia
I woke, beat up the dogman and sped east. I didn’t hide my tracks. I found the sleeping bag and visited a small town. I entered a collapsed building and used my strength to scavenge it for supplies. I found a plastic bag, a shiv and some medication. I entered a second collapsed building and found a heavy wrench I had no way of carrying, plus a tshirt and olive-coloured hoodie. I put them on over my hospital gown. I entered a third collapsed building and my brutish search caused part of the building to collapse. The dust irritated my throat and nose, while rubble scratched my right leg and battered my stomach. I was bleeding. I continued east to another small town. It started to rain. I froze to death.
Survival time (in-game): 12 hours.
November 18th, Acute Bleeding In The Lungs
I woke, beat up the dogman, skinned his corpse and dressed myself in the fur pelt. I sped east and found shoes, jeans, a tshirt, two backpacks, medication and a tree branch. I saw a Bad Mutha with a sharpened spear and I beat him to death with the tree branch. I encountered a stranger and readied for a fight, but she offered to talk. I had never successfully spoken to someone before. She mocked me for being “fresh from the farm” and left. I found a better backpack and encountered another stranger, who I stabbed to death with my spear. I took their jeans. Another stranger approached and I hid and watched as the new stranger took the remaining items from the corpse, including two left shoes. I traded some bullets for a cellphone from another looter. I reached the Glow and saw inside for the first time. I was starving and got into a fight with a guard. My wooden spear couldn’t pierce their armour. My lower chest was shredded by an attack. I bled into my lungs and died.
Survival time: 7 days, 8.65 hours.
November 19th, Heart Stopped
I woke up, killed the dog man and moved north. I found a satchel and a wooden branch. I discovered Zom-Zom’s, a warehouse I’d never seen before. I made a deal with a mechanic and, after some bartering, took a quest to retrieve some objects for him. Almost immediately after leaving the warehouse I was attacked by an already bleeding man carrying a spear. We fought, we injured each other, I passed out. “Player’s heart has stopped, and will likely die soon.”
Survival time: 9.06 hours.
November 20th, Unbearable Pain
I choose Electrician, Mechanic, Botany, Lockpicking, Hiding and Hacking. I wake up and use the electrical skills to lock the Dogman outside the door. I encounter a Bad Mutha two hexes away from the starting area who spots me and attacks. They have a rifle and I only have fists. The fight lasts an age as we punch, kick and scrabble at one another. I win. The rifle is obviously empty but I take it anyway along with a plastic bag and a left shoe. I am exhausted and covered in bruises. I rest in a burnt shell of a building and catch moderate hypothermia. A melonhead confronts me. I’ve never met one before, but they are frail, naked and alien-looking. We fight. I hit him with the rifle butt. He punches me in the chest and fractures my ribs. I fall unconscious “from unbearable pain.” The melonhead punches me to death whilst I sleep.
Survival time: 6.47 hours.
November 21st, Infection
Back to Botany, Melee, Strong, Tracking. I kill the Dogman with such an awesome display of fighting prowess that I retrieve the security footage and carry the tape around with me for days. I move towards the Glow and scavenge shoes, jeans, backpacks, a lighter, an optical tracking device and more along the way. Eventually I drop the tape to save space. I arrive at the Glow and accept a quest to visit the Hidden Lake in the northwest. I travel for days more, avoiding tracks and hiding from combat. I eventually encounter and fight a member of the Blue Frog cult. I win. I take his gun and wear his gas mask and blue sash. I watch two strangers fight one another from afar and decide not to get involved. I go to sleep and die of an infection I didn’t realise I had and don’t know how I received.
Survival time: 9 days, 12.11 hours.
I like rationing games for myself like this. If I’m enjoying something, I’m inclined to keep doing it until I get sick of it. That can be fine, but by breaking game experiences into digestible chunks, each experience becomes more valuable. I appreciate it more; I remember it better; I savour it. Playing Dishonored this way, for example – beginning and ending each day’s work at your headquarters/pub – made that game far more enjoyable than if I had sprint through it over a couple of days.
Since NEO Scavenger has permadeath, there’s also some unavoidable repetition to it. Not as much as you might think – the choice of positive and negative traits at the start of the game, and the freedom to explore in any direction, make each experience feel different. But the structure of its early stages and the flavour of its world is the same even if you’re biting at it in different places. Limiting myself to one life per day reduces any weariness I might eventually begin to feel.
Lastly, it makes everything so much more tense. I was previously frivolous with my life when in the early stages of a game. Why do those first few minutes matter when I can just as easily start over, and next time I might even be more lucky with the random items I find? They don’t, but now that each life is the only opportunity I’ll have to play that day, I’m as desperate to survive as I would be if my pockets and feet were well equipped.
Eg, fuck that melonhead.
I might play this way forever. I might also continue to write about this game forever.
This post was funded by the RPS Supporters.