DayZ is a multiplayer zombie survival sim which, though buggy and incomplete, produces anecdotes of drama, desperation and clown mask-wearing weirdos. Emily Richardson has been playing it with a question: can you be a good person in the videogame post-apocalypse?
I’m waiting behind a big green house in the grass, watching the city below me from my little hill. It’s my second time in DayZ, the first consisting mostly of finding and eating sardines with my guide, Andy. I’m waiting for him to find me when I see a silhouette coming up through the grass toward me, a big M4 rifle pointed at my head.
I yell, ‘Wait, wait, don’t do that!’ and turn and run round the other side of the house. When I turn to look back at him he’s stood waving. It’s Andy, but as a woman, in different clothes and wielding a weapon I hadn't ever seen before. He thinks I’m an idiot.
I'm so new to this that I feel a lot like the hopeless little kid from The Road and Andy is a bit like my dad, leading me through the world and trying to keep me alive. But not in a weird way, that's just an analogy. I have no idea what I'm doing, though, or what my course of action is for bashing into other survivors.
There's a lot of kill-on-sight bandits out there in Chernarus, but I know that that's frowned upon by everyone that wants DayZ to be an interesting game about human interaction and the balance of trust, rather than just shooting stuff. I feel like I want to be one of those brave people that makes the game more exciting, by holding people up and handcuffing them rather than just shooting them dead, but it's difficult when everyone else is trying to kill you and knick off with your sardines. It even gets a bit annoying, and I'm prone to panicking at the sight of Andy, never mind other players.
While I'm considering all of this, Andy decides that we should trundle off to look for more sardines and maybe a gun or something. Ten minutes and a little skirmish with some zombies later and we arrive in Elektro, one of the main cities. There's a bugged-out dead body groaning in the church and spurting blood, but it's not good for much. Andy gives it a battering with his fire axe to make sure it's definitely dead (it definitely was) and we move on a bit.
After a while we sit down in the middle of the main road with two medpacks open at our feet. For a good ten minutes we stay there, in the open, fiddling with a syringe, an empty blood bag and an IV starter kit. I want to take a sample of my blood to check against Andy’s in the hope I can give him a transfusion, which would spare a fragile onward journey, but neither of us know what we're doing. In the end, Andy somehow manages to take my blood and drops it to me. We decide to transfuse it immediately since we can’t be bothered to play around with the kit any more and we don’t know what to do.
He falls unconscious and shortly afterward he’s dead. We've made a pretty basic mistake. I’m alone in the big city, rifling through Andy’s backpack trying to salvage our most precious items. I take the M4, our canteens and water bottles, medical supplies, compasses and so forth. I’m carrying four guns, none of which have ammo, three of which are pistols. I leave all the food and canned drinks behind, considering that in my last session sardines were easily come by.
I begin the long and tiring run along the shore to Andy’s spawn, far up north. It's not long before I'm regretting not bringing some food with me. I’m hungry, and every small coastal town has been freshly pillaged by New Spawns. I drink what little water is left in the canteens and hope that eventually we’ll bash into each other and swap what few supplies we salvaged along the way. A good while later and I’m approaching a midway town that we’ve agreed to meet at when Andy suddenly says, ‘Oh. I’m at Kamiwobo.’
Kamiwobo being the town I was at a good ten minutes ago.
It’s a long, exhausting hike, and when we finally regroup we’re in a desperate state. We're both starting to starve and die of dehydration. Not stopping for food was stupid. Andy met another friend called Will along the way and he's looking even worse. We have to make a sprint for the first place we know definitely has water, so we decide to go back to Elektro, not realising that Kamiwobo has a water pump mere feet away from us.
We push on and to much dismay we crash into another survivor. He's a New Spawn and we're not afraid of him, but we'd like to pass in peace and avoid the inconvenience. I'd distributed the guns between us, Andy reunited with his M4 and Will and I wielding pistols. We point the guns at this noob and realise that with no bullets and no intentions we actually don't really know what to do. We're noobs too.
“Friendly,” the new guy announces. Well, that's nice. Andy types 'Hey' into the chat and with his name coming up, the guy seems to recognise him.
It's our friend Chris - which is a weird coincidence in a map the size of Chernarus - and he's dying too! Yey.
We sprint to Elektro and three of us make it to the water pump. Unfortunately, fellow survivor Will succumbed to thirst on the journey, but we agree to loot Elektro and head back for him when we have some proper supplies and an idea of what to do beyond 'keep going back to Elektro'. So Andy, Chris and myself trawl through the fire station looking for bullets and tasty treats when Andy suddenly bellows into public chat, “There's a man with a gun out here!” or something of that horrible, panic-stricken nature. Our location and supply status has been broadcast to the entire city. Well done mate.
We scout around outside the fire station but find nothing. Andy says he might have been wrong, he might have just imagined it. We need to help another survivor we know who's stuck at the top of a smoke stack at the factory, so we set off through the main roads once again. As we're trundling along, my screen suddenly reads, 'YOU ARE UNCONSCIOUS', which soon turns to, 'YOU ARE DEAD'. I yell at my friends to run.
Chris' Twitch stream reveals that I was shot first, then Andy went down to a second gunshot. Chris dodges into a nearby house and hides, peering through a little window to try and get a view of our attackers. A third crack and his screen joins ours in darkness.
We messed up a lot, but I've learned a great deal from this first real adventure. Chiefly; don't screw around in the middle of a main road, and secondly, eat anything and everything that you can't carry in your backpack. Just gorge on it all.
Being shot in the back of the head so soon has also made me realise who I want to be in DayZ. Ignoring that time when I caved Andy's head in with a baseball bat (he asked me to), I haven't killed anyone and I don't intend to unless they're going to kill me. I'd rather have a high-stress debate in the middle of a warzone than shoot at people and never know who they were or what they were like. Better yet, I'm gonna campaign for everyone to just get along like nice little bandits should. I'm assuming an identity as the Saline Bandit, and I'm going to holdup and heal everyone I meet, with a little help from some friends.
We'll see exactly how long it lasts.
The Saline Bandit will return... on Friday.