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Survival Games Versus Pottering About

Pottering in the face of danger

Supporter post

This post was originally published as part of the RPS Supporter program

I’m playing a lot of Subnautica [official site] at the moment, spending hours beneath the waves, doing the floaty equivalent of pottering and gardening.

I think the reason I’m having so much fun, despite being historically infuriated by survival games, is that one mode allows you to ditch the hunger and thirst constraints. I’m still surviving in that I worry about my oxygen and my health and I like how that guides and paces my exploration. There are constraints to navigate but not the constant irritant of hunger and thirst as it tends to manifest in this tranch of gaming.

I think my biggest issue with food and drink in survival games (and this is a general point rather than a specific one as I refuse to play Subnautica in anything other than my beloved Freedom mode) is how narrow it makes your scope of activity.

I’m one of life’s potterers. I love tinkering and tweaking and honing in on little details and being amazed or enthralled by things. In survival games, thirst and hunger tend to cut across that. There’s no space to wander and to enjoy or stretch out into the space because you tend to be scrambling around looking for wells and streams and sources of nutrition.

I get that you’re supposed to be SURVIVING and that you’re probably in a wilderness or a post-apocalyptic mess of a place so you would be stressed and desperate. That’s fine. But it’s not what I enjoy about gaming so I tend to shy away, even if I would enjoy some of the aspects of the experience enormously.

I also find that there’s a strange tension that this weird fake cyber body’s demands introduces. If I’m exploring and surviving I tend to be in first person mode, trying to make the experience as close to “me” as possible. But then there’s this constant pull of a thirst and a hunger that seems, so often, completely out of kilter with what I think a body would actually need in that reality.

I end up half playing the game as a survivor and half playing as the mother of a newborn, meeting incessant demands to be fed and watered as other heavily armed newborns (or AI wolves or whatever) prowl nearby. I don’t think I’ve ever found a game where that hunger or thirst system felt right. It’s always this weird mechanical layer that I can’t seem to integrate into my play experience.

But perhaps it’s because I potter. I would probably die from pottering after the apocalypse.

[FYI, during our Survival Week I wrote another supporter post about this topic, but that was about the deceit of survival game bodies, in case you’re interested]

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Philippa Warr

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