Incomplete and buggy as it is, DayZ (the terrifying zombie-survival modification for Arma 2: Combined Operations) is a superb and compelling piece of work, with more players trying to play than can comfortably be accommodated on its large list of hosted servers.
Now, you put a foot wrong and you can get pulled down by zombies in less time than it takes to tell. When one comes after you, it may bring more. Actually taking a shot at it will almost always bring more.
But it isn’t the zombies that you have to worry about.
After getting in some serious play-time, moving around Chernarus starts to become familiar. The landscape starts to become home, and evading the zombies – while time-consuming – isn’t so hard, day or night. With care and caution you can move around the landscape and through the cities, towns and villages of Chernarus without being too much bothered by the zombies.
Sometimes I don’t even go armed. A flashlight can be more useful than a gun.
No, it’s the other players that are the concern.
Almost all the players I’ve met have been the live-and-let-live sort. Happy to share a space around the fire, or a box of matches, some bandages or other supplies if you’re running short. Happy to work as a team, and watch your back, while you watch theirs, until you decide to go on your separate ways again.
On any 50-person server, that describes about 45 of them, generally.
The other five, well, they’ll stake out any good supply locations, and simply shoot any other player they see.
Spawn with newbie gear, spend between five and fifteen minutes travelling to places you know you can get better equipment, five minutes scrounging out a selection, and bang! You’re just another corpse.
Your murderer might stop by and steal your watch and a map – or any other rare supplies you might happen to be carrying.
Spawn again, rinse and repeat. It’s frustrating.
I’m starting to really appreciate the night, and moving around a landscape that I can barely see five feet in – because I know these few guys can’t see very far in it either.
Still, it’s only a few people out of a large number, but it is infectious.
Players call ahead, asking if the other person is friendly. Players use the ‘salute’ key to indicate that they’re not hostiles (NPC bandits can look and act a great deal like player characters, but they can’t and don’t salute). And even so, you might get shot. If someone thinks you’re lining your weapon up on them – or that you might turn on them, they’ll shoot first.
The apocalypse is serious business, and the social conventions are still evolving. Any sighting of another player could wind up with one of you (or both of you) dead in seconds. Plus the gunfire just brings dozens of hungry zombies in to finish off any survivors.
Those moments, though, where you share a fire, or exchange equipment with another player. They’re gold. There’s a shared experience that’s hard to come by. You’re not just trading epic loot in a pub in Azeroth. You’re huddled around a fire in a doomed and hostile world, helping each-other to survive, where some bandages or a tin of beans can mean life or death.
It’s you and me against the world. So, let’s not get excited and shoot each-other in the face, okay?