Games with permadeath -- wherein you start over completely when you die -- provide certain stakes to a gaming session. Rather than reloading your last save after you die, you lose all your gear, you lose all your progress, and you essentially lose all the time you've spent playing up to that point. For a while now (a couple years, to be honest) I've been thinking about a way to up those stakes, to go a step beyond perma-death: perma-permadeath, where dying means you don't just lose your stuff, you lose the game itself. Forever. Survival Week on RPS seems like an apt time to finally give it a try.
So, today I'll play DayZ, and if I die, I won't simply start over. I'll stop playing DayZ, and I won't play it again. For the rest of my life. For real.
Granted, this still may not sound like whole lot in the way of stakes. There are and will be tons of other games to play, and it's not like I'm going to chuck out my entire computer and start, like, reading books or something. Still, I love DayZ. It's my favorite game of the past few years, and according to Steam, I've sunk 250 hours into it. What's more, as a games writer, if someone were to contact me (as Graham did) about writing a paid piece on DayZ, not only will I be losing out on that pay, I'll have to explain that I can't play it because I promised the Internet I wouldn't, which makes me sound like a fucking idiot. So, there are financial stakes, as well as whatever you call stakes that make you look like a complete moron. Mostly, though, if I die in today's session, I'll be losing a game I truly enjoy, forever, and that feels pretty heavy.
I came up with a couple ground rules to make sure I don't just squat safely in the woods eating berries for the day and then declare myself a winner. The servers I play on need to be at least half-full so there are other players around. I'll also make myself visit two big cities, one in the north and one in the south, forcing me to cover a good bit of ground and enter areas in which zombies and players are likely. Once I've visited those two cities, which will take at least a few hours, I can call it quits and start playing normally again.
I take a deep breath, wonder why I'm doing this, and then spawn in as a freshie on a server with 21 people on it. I quickly get my bearings: over my shoulder, I spot an island with a lighthouse on it. That's Drakon, which means I'm in the south, close to Electro. Good news! I'm on the outskirts of my first big city without having taken a step. I perform the perfunctory DayZ bambi business by stuffing my shirt into my pants and tearing it into rags, then hustle toward Electro.
The first few buildings I loot provide me with gloves and a red children's backpack. There's also a water pump nearby, and I start filling my belly, spinning the third-person camera around to watch my own back as I drink. I immediately spot a creeper zombie fast approaching, perfectly framed by the pump. Naturally, I can't cancel the drinking animation, because this game is still so damn incomplete, so I'm forced to sit there, serenely sipping water and watching as my potential ever-death closes in.
I recite some calming words aloud as I watch, something like "Stop drinking stop drinking STOP DRINKING COME ON STOP DRINKING YOU FUCK," but to no avail: the creeper, and a second upright zombie who's joined him, are pummeling the blood out of me by the time I can straighten up and flee. I manage to lose them and bandage myself in the bushes. Cripes. I run along the beach to the other side of Electro, somehow becoming soaked in the process despite never stepping in water. Ah, early-access.
After calming down -- I was legitimately sweating -- I continue. I find a black cap, a tin of tuna, and a can of peaches, the last of which needs a sharp tool to open it. A pajama zombie chases me from a house I'm looting, though I find a machete in a shed so I can return and hack him to un-death. I open my food and take a long interrupted drink from another pump. I'm now energized and hydrated. All things considered, not a terrible start.
While checking out a few more buildings, I run into a shed and find myself face to face with another player. I'm so utterly shocked and terrified I don't even remember to take a screenshot, but this is what he looks like to my wide, panicked eyes:
In truth, he's just wearing a boonie hat and blue checkered shirt, his hands balled into fists but not holding a weapon. Another freshie. "Hey there," I say above the sound of my pounding heart. He says something back, probably "Hello" or "Hey" but possibly "I am going to murder you so you can never play DayZ again!" In my freaked-out state, I can't be sure. Two zombies lurch into the building, and we both run out and head in different directions. I decide to consider my visit to Electro complete, and dash north into the woods. I'm sweating, my heart is still pounding, and I'm whirling my camera around me so fast I'm getting sick. I'm halfway up the hill when the server restarts, giving me a moment to sit back in my chair and exhale. This is genuinely nerve-wracking.
I join a new server, a chilly one. Being cold is a gameplay feature now, though I'm not entirely sure what the negative effects are. I head up the road, aiming toward the small town of Pusta, alone except for the words "I am promptly cooling off, I am rapidly cooling off," repeating endlessly in the corner of my screen. Hey, it's better than having to suffer through global chat.
I force myself to slow down a bit. Rushing is my natural instinct in DayZ, and now it's doubled: the sooner I get to the northern city of Novo the sooner I can stop playing with this stupid, terrifying perma-permadeath rule I'm forcing on myself. But running headlong isn't a good survival tactic. I slow down, examine my surroundings, and carefully check the road ahead. I stop to search a row of trees for apples, finding only two rotten ones. I spend some time watching an elk, appreciating its gentle beauty. Of course, if I had gun I would kill it and if I had matches I would cook and eat it, but I don't have those things. So, I appreciate its gentle beauty.
I soon reach Pusta, where a few buildings offer up a hoodie, a cowboy hat, a nearly full canteen, a bag of rice, a can of spaghetti, an orange, and a can of soda. I'm doing very well on the nourishment front: I could probably make it all the way north without having to eat again. As I'm looting I start noticing major server lag: doors are opening a few seconds after I poke them, or not opening at all. I can't move things around in my inventory, and I'm also rubber-banding: being teleported back inside buildings moments after I've left them.
It's foolish, then, that I choose to engage a charging zombie. I swing repeatedly at his face, hitting absolutely nothing -- lag again -- and at one point my character switches from holding his machete to holding his canteen. I don't even know what the hell kind of glitch that is. Naturally, the zombie is unaffected by the shitty server and he peppers me with blows. Bleeding again, and my new hoodie completely ruined, I use my last rag to patch myself up. It appears I'm not the only one annoyed by the lag: the server list has quickly dropped to nine players, so I ditch.
On a new server with about twenty players, I make my way to Mogilevka, a mid-sized town. I don't want to enter it: with no rags to use as bandages, zombies are a danger. The game tells me I'm so cold I'm shaking, and dark clouds have formed overhead. I'm worried about being soaked by rain and getting hypothermia. I raid the outlying buildings, finding a proper backpack to replace my small one and a bandana to tear into rags. I find a quiet spot to eat and drink what I've collected, then run out of town when a zombie finally spots me.
Eating my rice has left me parched so I stop halfway to Vyshnoye to use a water pump next to a couple of buildings, which is guarded by a single zombie. I cut him to the ground, but he lurches back up and swipes at me. I connect with his head again as he claws at me, and I hear my character cry out. Great, my arm is broken, and I'm bleeding. Well, I cut some branches earlier, so I can use one rag to craft a splint and use the other to...
No. No. Somehow, the punch that broke my arm also ruined the rags I had in my pants. Not only is that utter bullshit, but it's compounded by my own rookie blunder: I didn't separate my rags into different spots in my inventory, which might have at least saved one rag so I could stop my bleeding. My hoodie is ruined and can't be turned into rags, either. I quickly search the two buildings near the pump, my panic rising. Nothing. Shit. Shit. I'm in the middle of nowhere and I have no bandages. I'm going to bleed to death. I'm going to fucking bleed to death.
Mogilevka. It's my only chance. Vyshnoye is probably a hair closer but I think it's uphill from here, so I've got to reach Mogilevka before I bleed out. Squirting blood as my screen begins to lose color, I sprint back down the hill, my heart in my throat. This can't be the end. I'll find something. I peel off my pants (a neat trick while sprinting) to see if, maybe-maybe-maybe they patched the game so you can turn pants into rags. No luck. In my underwear and backpack, my heart in my throat, I run. Mogilevka is growing closer. My screen is going white. I run.
I reach the town. I burst into one building, getting hung up on the swinging door for what feels like an eternity. I desperately scour the rooms. Food, everywhere, but no clothing. I run back outside and make for the large building at the end of the street. A bandana, a shirt, a first-aid kit, anything, anything, anything, don't let it end like this, punched in the arm by a stupid fucking zombie. I sprint down the street, race up the front steps, throw open the door, run into the hall, turn left into the room, frantically scanning for
Many, many feelings. First and foremost, crippling embarrassment. How could I have forgotten to separate my rags? Why even bother with that pump when I wasn't dying of thirst? How could I let a zombie, of all things, kill me? Granted, it's preferable to being shot in the face as some squeaky-voiced kid shouts racial slurs, but it's such a lame way to go. Somehow, despite playing with additional stakes, I wasn't being additionally careful. Fuck.
Second? Seriously, fuck.
My third reaction you can probably guess: "Okay. Let's just pretend this didn't happen. They just wanted a column about DayZ. It doesn't have to be this one. Write something else. No one needs to know. No one needs to know!"
Thing is, I've never been as tense and nervous playing a game in my life as I was in those last few minutes, and despite losing a great game from my life, I think it's worth documenting that. The rising panic as I realized I was in real trouble, the pulse-pounding run back to town, the dreadful knowledge that my last few seconds were ticking away, the frantic search for something to save my life knowing I'd never, ever have another one. I've never felt anything like it in a game before. Action games, horror games, competitive multiplayer games... nothing has ever come close. This was about as real as it's ever gotten. It was terrible. It was fun. And, of course, I genuinely lost something.
There's one remaining problem. How can someone reading this know, really know, that I'm never going to play DayZ again? Unfortunately, you can't. There's no real way to prove that I'm serious, that I'm being genuine, that I'm simply not going to play the game again, so I'll just have to tell you this and hope you believe me: I won't. Not ever. That was the deal. That was the experiment. That was my last game of DayZ. That was it.
You can read more Survival Week articles over here.