DayZ of Indifference: Fighting Against the Injustice Engine

I hadn’t meant to be talking about DayZ this week, but after reading Jason’s post, I just couldn’t resist.

As with many of us, I’ve been familiar with the ArmA II mod for a while now. I found it interesting how it gave an older game a new life. However, I never actually played it. Military shooters were never my thing, so I didn’t want to spend money on ArmA II just to play DayZ.

Lately though, Steam has been bombarded with survival-type games, be they 7 Days to Die, Rust, or any of the thousands of zombie survival games available. Some have peeked my interest, and I’ve had to reign myself back from purchasing Rust several times, especially after reading about some of the player behaviours in the game.

However, DayZ is now available as a standalone game, as an Early Access Alpha Release. Even though buying into such a game can be a gamble at times, I’ve always liked doing so for certain games. I figure that, if the price is right, I’ll likely get enough enjoyment out of the game as-is to justify the purchase. More often than not, that’s what ends up happening.

I’m also a fan of the shareware method of distribution of development pioneered by Doom and lately revitalized by Minecraft. As I see it, Early Access is an extension of this strategy and I’m all for it.

Until last week, I’ve held off from purchasing DayZ. Jason’s post rekindled my interest, but it wasn’t until I read Brendan Caldwell’s piece at Rock, Paper, Shotgun that I took the plunge.

In the article, Caldwell documents his journey towards sociopathy and psychopathy in DayZ, and concludes that DayZ is, in fact, an injustice engine (go read it, it’s worth it). An injustice engine? Well, how could I resist? I needed to see that for myself! So I took the plunge. And I haven’t regretted it.

A few quick first impressions:

  1. The game is pretty. I know, that doesn’t mean much, but I’ve been quite enjoying the atmosphere that the colour palettes and architectural choices created. It feels as if I’m on my own in a forbidding world.
  2. The survival part of the game works. There’s plenty of loot to collect, and it’s logically located (ie, you can expect to find bandages in hospitals, and guns in police stations). However, loot isn’t so prevalent as to make survival a sure thing.
  3. The PvE needs some work still. I know that much is planned for future updates, but as it stands PvE is limited to shooting zombies that seem to ignore all laws of time or space.
  4. The PvP, as far as I can tell, largely works as well. PvP really is where most of the tension happens. I haven’t indulge in much of it so far, but what I have seen seems to work.
  5. The absence of any kind of quantitative feedback when it comes to your character’s condition is awesome. Sure, the system is backed up by numbers and you can find out what those numbers are by going to a wiki, but it’s much more satisfying and nerve-wracking to not know. There’s no health bar to see how hurt you are. Rather, your screen gets increasingly blurry, or your character shakes uncontrollably if he’s hurt too much. There’s no way to know if you still have half of your blood left. Rather, you see your screen turn to various shades of grey as you keep bleeding. There’s no food and thirst gauge. Rather, the game gives you a vague notion of how hungry or thirsty you are. All this makes micromanaging your character’s condition difficult and requires you to focus on the immediacy of your situation.

So I installed DayZ and booted up the game in the hopes of finding the fabled injustice engine. Instead I ended up finding something entirely different, though equally fascinating.

So far, it’s as if the game is actively forcing me to relax and avoid violence. Oh, I know that it’s likely an artifact of some of the choices I’ve been making, but I’m finding it nonetheless mesmerizing.

My first foray into the game is probably typical of that of new players. I stayed close to the spawning area looted food and drinks. I actively engaged zombies in fisticuffs (bad idea, but I didn’t know better) and ate rotten fruit (also a bad idea).

These early hours also gave me my first and only PvP encounter. So far, after about 20hrs of playing, the other player’s that I’ve encountered have either kept their distance or gave me a friendly wave before being on their way. Only one player deemed it appropriate to charge at me with an axe, so I had to cut him down with my own.

I’m now on a playthrough that’s been lasting about ten to twelve hours, and so far I’m well equipped for survival. My character’s health is great, I have more healing supplies and ammunition than I know what to do with, and my rifle and equipment is in good repair.

Even though I’m well-equipped for survival, I’m led to wonder why I bothered. So far, my adventures in DayZ have been rather uneventful. In fact, it wasn’t until a few hours ago that I finally acquired a rifle. Before that, I’d been running around the game world with axes and baseball bats, wearing nothing but a raincoat.

And it wasn’t that I was actively avoiding violence or weapons. Rather, everywhere I went seemed to be bereft of any means to create chaos. It probably took me about ten hours to find a rifle (a Blazer 95, essentially a long range double-barreled shotgun) and at least four or five extra hours to find ammunition to fire it, which I avoided doing because the noise attracts masses of zombies.

So I carried a rifle but never used it. I also carried an axe, but found it easier just to run away from the zombies. I just made my way around the world, looting houses for food and drinks, and enjoying the scenery. At one point, I sat down and a whole troop of rabbits started hopping around me. It didn’t even occur to me to try shooting one of them for food.

At that point I was ready to call of my search for the injustice engine and declare it dead. However, it suddenly became apparent to me that it wasn’t. In fact, it’s more alive than ever, and some of my very game play choice ensure its continuation.

At first I was actively shunning high population servers. I figured that the absence of people trying to kill me would allow me to survive longer as I learned the ropes. After a while, I stopped doing this and simply chose the server with the lowest ping, independent of their population.

I’ve also been hoarding my resources to ensure my own survival. I’m loaded up to my eyeballs with bandages, but I still collect them even though someone else might be in drastic need healing.

So really, what I’ve been doing for the last twenty hours is looking after myself because I couldn’t trust others. Caldwell mentions that using basic human trust as a game mechanic makes DayZ unlike anything, and he’s correct. The little moments of calmness and zen I’ve so far experienced are really moments of indifference. I didn’t really care what happened to anyone else, as long as I survived. Indifference, in DayZ, is normal. Indifference is the basic state of existence. And that’s probably the biggest injustice of them all.

So I’ve decided to fight against it. As of now, I’ll likely be playing on the most populated servers, actively searching for other players. I’ll be risking human contact in the hopes that it’s rewarded. I’ll leaving behind items I don’t need, and will try to seed the spawn points with interesting equipments and notes (when I can find writing implements). I’ll probably try my hand at hunting a few bandits as well, or at least those ones that I see actively preying on unprepared characters.

Will doing these things get my characters killed several times? More than likely. Doing anything else, however, has now become unacceptable.

About Erik Bigras

Erik Bigras is an independent scholar. He studied as a PhD Candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a BA in Anthropology (2009) from the University of Prince Edward Island (Canada) where he focused on the creation of subjectivities through digital media. He's been playing video games since the mid-1980s, but expanded his gaming interest to table-top RPGs in the early 2010s.
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