If you’ve been living under a rock these last few weeks, you may have missed the Internet talking about DayZ, the current hotness among our somewhat strange cultural obsession with zombies. This mod for Arma II, created by Dean Hall (better known to the community as "rocket"), has been called "the zombie game we’ve all been wishing for" and "2012’s greatest story generator."
What it offers is a terrifying world, where one wrong move could surround you with the fastest denizens of the undead world you’ve ever seen or put a bullet between your eyes, a courtesy of another player who claims he’d reward you with a can of beans if you'd come toward him.
New characters spawn on the southern coast island roughly 220 km in size with a pistol, ammo, bandages, beans, and a canteen. To survive, you must keep yourself well-fed, healthy, and even warm to sustain your life, which means continual scavenging through the wasteland is a must.
Littering every town and its surrounding roads is an army of walking dead, who for some sadistic reason have been rewarded with the running speed of Olympic-sprinting jaguars. If they catch sight of you, running away is nigh impossible unless you find a set of stairs, the apparent kryptonite of the undead. Therefore, your primary options are to sneak or shoot through.
If you die, then all your progress up to that point is dead also. Any items you had are gone, and what could have been a 2 hour trek to the north was in vain. While this alone makes DayZ terrifying, what really does it for me — and what I am really here to talk about — is the player-to-player experience.
Anyone who watches The Walking Dead or who has seen a Romero zombie film knows that the meat and potatoes of the story is watching how humans react to each other in their new world. In DayZ, around 50 players share the 220 kilometer island. That’s one human being for every four-and-a-half kilometers of world, making interactions between players few and far between and wholly more interesting when they occur.
However, two of the island’s major cities rest on the south coast where players spawn and are always populated with important loot, making them a wellspring of danger and interesting player-to-player events. While some avoid cities because of this, others gravitate towards them for the loot found in buildings and on the bodies of other players.
Alongside a general chat, the DayZ community encourages the use of the Direct Communication Channel, which allows players to talk using voice chat with those in close proximity. The volume of voice is based not only on a player’s distance but also relative to direction that they are facing. This allows players to pinpoint a speaker’s location based on the volume and direction of his voice.
But not everyone (read: hardly anyone) in the wastes can be trusted, so communicating with other players is a dice roll. You aren’t just dealing with other members of the human race here, you’re dealing with the Internet, and the Internet is not a nice place. It only takes one shot to get someone bleeding, and a few to end his life. With death carrying such heavy consequences, one may immediately regret the decision of alerting others to one's presence even if one's intentions are friendly.
And yet, there’s something extremely human about trusting one who speaks. It’s alluring to think someone will share your hardships with you and fight side-by-side against the armies of undead and villainy of other humans. Having a team of players or even just one companion really stacks the odds in your favor. Murderers who would otherwise kill you on sight may think twice if they see you are not alone. However, trusting someone is not always easy.
In this video, we see the player, Wimzer, aid a fellow survivor who requests help in the dead of night. The one asking for help is Glasses, who has run out of ammo and is running zombies around in circles, for fear of his own imminent death. Wimzer finds ammo and reluctantly helps Glasses kill his zombie congo-line.
All of this happens through the lens of Wimzer’s rare and powerful set of night-vision goggles, one of the most sought after items in the game. These give you an extreme advantage during night (which is fantastic as game servers operate on real-time). While most players are forced to work by loud flares, bright flashlights, or small-range chemlights, the night vision goggles give you the ability to see at night without giving away your position to other players or zombies.
Because of this, Wimzer had a distinct advantage throughout the whole video. Yet, when he finally is able to hand ammo over to Glasses and turns his back to him, he is shot and killed. Shortly after, Glasses disconnects from the game — most likely with Wimzer’s goggles and his silenced pistol.
Aside from this video, there is no blatant notoriety that Glasses has accrued in-game for this action. Previously, DayZ displayed the player’s Humanity based on their avatar’s appearance. Killing players would reduce your Humanity and eventually turn you into a bandit, allowing other players to know that you might be an immediate threat. However, many players earned this look through self-defense and were then immediately shot on sight by others. After much debate, the bandit skin was removed because it was not considered fair nor was it considered realistic. The tradeoff, however, is that it is now impossible to know who to trust.
So why be moral? Why not kill on sight? No consequences, right? And yet, through my thirty hours playing DayZ, I have not killed another survivor despite being killed by many. Why? I'll explain on page two.
I was sitting on the roof of an abandoned school in the city of Cherno. From here, I could see two players, a bandit and a survivor. They were talking in general chat, which I watched as I watched them. The survivor claimed he was friendly, and the bandit did also; although, they had not seen each other yet.
Upon meeting face to face, the survivor shoots the bandit but does not kill him. The bandit then opens fire and must have been more accurate because he kills the survivor. The bandit then starts heading into the school from which I watched the scene unfold, and I quietly try to make my way out. I make it, but as I turn a corner outside the school, we bump into each other, and I immediately start blasting my gun as fast as my mouse would allow.
Since I didn’t keep my cool, though, my aim suffered, and I only hit him maybe twice in the leg. He runs around the corner as the sound of the undead blares out over my real-life panicking. I get to a defensible position, waiting for the dead to come, and as I start dispatching them, I hear the bandit around the corner doing the same thing.
We are now both prey battling against the predators.
When the gunfire stops, I ask him if he’s alive, and I apologize. For some strange reason, he forgives me. After taking multiple shots, the bandit is in dire need of blood so I agree to help him. We enter into a nearby café, where four bandits are dead throughout its multiple floors. I find a pack of blood and administer it to my new friend — further increasing my Humanity. We agree to work together and even add each other on Skype, where we continue to communicate and assist each other.
Either of us could have killed the other, but intead, we became friends.
While Humanity is not displayed outright to the player anymore, mod creator Hall has claimed it still exists in the system and may come back eventually to reward those who have done well by others. Previously, killing a bandit would grant the survivor with a slight boost in Humanity. If this system still operates the same, then killing defensively will most likely result in a rise in Humanity, whereas killing on sight will secretly reduce a player’s Humanity stat, one of the only things that persists through death.
Believing that there will eventually be some system that rewards people based on their actions…yet, only the creator knows if it exists…sound familar?
Sounds true to life. Sounds like faith.
DayZ’s player interactions currently play out like a balance scale, where on one end sits morality and on the other survival. When a player has no morality, he may simply kill for the fun of it. Others may only kill because they are in dire need of aid that another player refuses to offer. People like me refuse to kill others even under dire circumstances, and for this, we are probably bad players.
If the goal is to survive, shouldn’t I do anything for it?
Yet, with somewhat religious fervor, I cannot bring myself to kill another unless I know full-well he intends to do me harm. This has caused my own demise countless times, yet I still continue to do it. In a sense, it is a form of roleplaying, and in another, I just feel bad for taking away another player's progress.
Will a system ever come that makes Humanity worth it? Will it merely be displayed as a trophy, or will it do something more? How will it affect the player-to-player dynamic in-game? The fact that no one has these answers right now makes it Humanity an even more interesting system and makes maintaining a high rating a true test of morals.
Or, maybe it makes you a sucker, who knows?