It’s the 12th of February and I’m about ready to put my fist through my computer screen. My progress on DayZ has hit another wall through no fault of my own, with the blame lying solely on the game’s current primitive state. I’m stuck in limbo: after dying an embarrassing death breaking my leg on a deserted beach and having to slowly drown myself to put me out of my misery, every time I respawn I’m simply put back moments before death, with the same broken leg, in the same place. I’m angry at myself for letting this happen, of course, I knew the risks in DayZ and I was playing with fire, but this is ridiculous. It’s really the point where I take serious issue with the Early Access model – if it’s so early that it doesn’t even function yet, it’s not right to take money for it, like selling someone an empty tube of Pringles and saying that there should be some in there, but we don’t know, and they should be added soon, but we’re not sure when. Naturally, I took the evening off to yell about it on Twitter.
Fast forward 48 hours and my compadre Mikey and I are sprinting up a hill away from the scene of a crime. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced in a video game,” I heard myself say. How did this miraculous turnaround occur? Just what the hell IS DayZ?
If you’re wondering how I got out of limbo, it took several hours of browsing solutions and throwing shit at the wall until the game finally decided to let me play again. Such is the world of DayZ, since we’re all doing our part in the development of the game, half the experience is hitting up Google, reporting what you find and getting a solution somehow. I stand by the statement that the price for doing the developer such a favour is ludicrous, but nonetheless it’s fascinating to be part of such a vast project, for all its problems.
As for the crime, Mikey and I had finally experienced our first proper ‘DayZ moment’. I don’t mean collecting a bag full of food and then falling off a ladder and dying – we’d both had our fair share of those moments, but they become a bit unexceptional after a while. No, we’d finally armed ourselves with a couple of axes, rifles with 5 bullets each and enough gumption and decided to just throw ourselves at the North-East Airfield. To those unversed in DayZ lore, the two airfields are where sportsmanship goes to die: you see a player, you take him down. If we kept waiting to be ready, we never would be, we thought. At first it was going swimmingly, and the place seemed to be deserted. I got a new hat, Mikey got a new backpack; not exactly the armoury of assault rifles and ammo we’d expected, but not a bad haul. It was only when we raided the control tower that it happened – “Wait. There’s someone else in here.”
I’ve never mugged someone; I’d really like to make that clear. I’m not a mugger, a muggist, a mugglifier, or a muggitute. I do not mug, and I do not intend to mug in the future. But there’s something about having to claw through a desolate world for hours collecting scraps to survive that makes non-muggers like myself get desperate. As I found myself pointing a rifle at this other traveller and yelling “FRIENDLY?” repeatedly down the microphone, I noticed it felt completely real. I didn’t want to play it safe and pull the trigger on the guy like I might have done in any other game, because as the past few hours of survival flashed before my eyes, I realise that this guy had just as much to lose. I did what I had to do; forced him to put his gun away, held him up as Mikey raided the other rooms, and even had a relatively friendly (albeit cripplingly tense) conversation with the guy, but it was hard to keep a lid on how thrilling the entire situation was. My hands were shaking, my brain calculating at a mile a minute.
Is it wrong? Is it nasty that what gives me the biggest rush to remember is how clearly rattled the guy sounded with a gun to his head? The idea of doing it in real life makes me feel sick, but dipping a toe into that world will stick with me. It wasn’t just a power rush, but just a rush in general – how did this clunky game full of bugs and inconsistencies forge such a powerful experience? There’s a certain magic, and I’m yet to truly put my finger on it. The only thing I can do is wander on, waiting for my next standoff. Maybe I’ll get shot this time.