Games and movies have made the zombie a superstar enemy. The human-like creature that's okay to kill because, well, they're already dead… and also they're soulless bringers of apocalyptic doom. Between zombies and Nazis it's hard to say what people like killing in games and movies more… I certainly enjoy a little of both. In truth, I love what the zombie has become and hate what has manifested in us.
My first encounter with a zombie was watching the original Dawn of the Dead. Since then zombies have been embedded in my mind as the perfect villain. They're human, so you can take out all of your pent up frustrations… but they're not human, they're insanely motivated death machines who can't be saved, so you don't have to feel the slightest remorse for splattering their brains all over the floor. They're perfect, but zombies have become so popular and so much the standard that everyone has their own design and vision of what zombies should be. Even more so people have their own designs and visions for what zombie games should be. Nobody is right or wrong, but we've grown picky.
DayZ has seen a lot of press, especially of late because of the standalone alpha launch, and I've read a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Outside of bugs, glitches, and network issues that will be ironed out I've noticed a lot of complaints towards its pacing and design. Many people call it "Hiking Simulator 2013" or "the zombie game with no zombies" (which, in all honesty, those are pretty accurate and hilarious), but for me it's exactly what I wanted. When I was growing up I was told only stupid people get bored, and while that's a harsh sentiment it holds a lot of truth. Now, hold on. Before anyone gets all uppity thinking I'm saying "if you think DayZ is boring, then you're stupid", I'm not, I'll explain.
Many of the best things in life are what you make of them. Hiking can be incredibly boring to some, but for many it's exciting and life-fulfilling. I know way too many people that think reading is boring, but some of the most exciting and interesting experiences I've had are from stories I've read in a book. Many things can be seen as tedious, boring, and unexciting but there is always someone who knows how to invest themselves and make those things interesting, engaging, and exhilarating. It all comes down to what you want to give.
I've played DayZ Standalone for about 15 hours at this point (never played the mod). I've encountered maybe 10 people total (3 who've seen me, 5 who haven't, and 2 that have killed me on sight), seen about 50 zeds (30 who didn't see me, 19 who've chased me, 1 that chased me for a mile out of town, literally), and I've spoken to no one. It took me 6 hours just to find a gun and the ammo for it! Not a whole lot of action going on in those stats… and I absolutely love it.
DayZ carries a suspense and anticipation that I've never experienced in a game before, at least not in the same way. As I hike towards the next town I'm planning my approach; all the while hoping I have enough food and water to last me if this next town is overrun with zed or being looted by a group of players (who will most likely not be friendly). Then, maybe as I see the town in the distance, I realize I have to get across a dangerously wide-open field. As I finally gather the courage to sprint across the open field I… wait, what was that? Did I see someone move over there? Or are my eyes playing tricks on me? I creep into a building looking for loot and freeze as I try and decide if the noise I just heard was another player, a zed, or just the building creaking. I approach another building, the door is open. Is someone nearby? Did they loot this already? Are they inside??? Perhaps I look out a window and see a player across the way… I can't tell if they have a gun, maybe they're friendly or willing to trade; I have an extra can opener… that should trade for something good. Oh, there's a body in the street… Did that player kill them or was it zed? Better not risk it, time to move out before I'm seen.
Most of the excitement is in my own head, like when I would go outside as a kid and just play.
My current situation right now I find fascinating: I lost a lot of blood from an encounter with 3 zeds and now I can only see in black and white. I have to eat and drink regularly to try and keep my blood building back up, and I am in dire need of either a saline IV or blood bag. I finally found a saline IV in a run-down hospital… but I can't administer it to myself. I've been alive for about 7 hours play time with this character so I'm well geared, but still uneasy about approaching other players (rightfully so). I have a magnum revolver and about 28 rounds so I have a few options: I could head somewhere I know will be populated and ask for help or barter, I could try and convince one of my friends to play the game with me, or I can find some non-firearm wielding individual, hold 'em up, and force them to give me the saline at gun point.
The realism the game carries creates this constant unease. As many have said, the scariest part of the game is the players (it's true). I've watched a few videos and many are geared players harassing other players. It's sad, sadistic, and unfair… and it's also human nature; a point that seems to be made very clear in almost every zombie movie. I read many people's comments showing their distaste towards this, but the truth is this is what the players want to experience when they play this game. Everyone survives just so they can see the next event. I look forward to being held up. Maybe I'll try and run or quick-draw my pistol, or maybe I'll just be killed in cold blood after a bit of dramatic dialogue. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know it'll be memorable. I was in a supermarket and was shot by someone I didn't even get to see, but I remember it and I learned from it. And now I'm smarter, stronger, and live longer. There is no winning, no endgame, just surviving so you can experience whatever comes next.
The people that complain about the game want more action, more zombies, and a more even playing field. These are all valid desires… but not for this game. The game's reality mirrors what our reality is. This game isn't about skill or being the best. It's really not even about killing zombies at all. It's about surviving and doing whatever it takes to make sure that's the case. Ironically, the people that complain are the same people that say they want to see the zombie apocalypse really happen, "it would be so awesome right!?" Wrong, it would be like this game. You would always feel uneasy and uncomfortable, you would never feel safe, you would be afraid of the zombies and more so the people. You would be hungry, cold, and dirty. Do the characters on The Walking Dead look like they're having the time of their lives?
And this is what I hate about what zombies have created in us. People aren't always content with a different approach to the apocalypse. We've become zombie snobs and everyone is an expert on the undead, "they move too fast," "there are not enough of them," "I don't want to be picked on," "the game is boring". Well, the apocalypse would be pretty boring… interspersed with occasional dramatic and exciting events. When you have no food you'll be excited to find a can of beans. When you meet someone out in the world you'll be happy that they didn't try to kill you or that all they took was your can opener. When you encounter a zombie and you're unarmed you'll be elated that you managed to get away unscathed. We don't play games to experience reality, I know, but the pursuit of a certain kind of reality the way DayZ does allows for a compelling narrative you craft all on your own. The zombies are there, but the scariest thing about them is that they could give away your position. Just as in our world, the people are what make it interesting.
I've played a lot of zombie games, from Zombies Ate My Neighbors for the SNES to Left 4 Dead 2. They all do different things well. Right now I'm playing through ZombiU and it's one of the best and most tension filled games I've played. I can't even play it for more than 2 hours at a time because it's so stressful (and there are jump scares, oh man). Other times, though, I would rather play Left 4 Dead. Every type of zombie game has a place in this world. Sometimes I want to mow down a horde and other times I want to fight off starvation by trying to sneak by a single walker for a soda.
Zombies are our evil, moldable best friends and we should treat them as such. They don't always have to be the star of the show! Sometimes guest stars make the show. Zombies should bring us all together, not tear us apart!
Well… they should do both!
Some games you only get out of it what you give, and sometimes the quality of exciting moments is better than the quantity of them. A five minute walk could be boring or suspenseful depending on how you approach it. I've played a DayZ session where literally nothing happened, but I still had the urge to play more; wondering to myself what encounters awaited me next time. If you want a plot, structure, or rules then it is best avoided. If you want a zombie apocalypse adventure that you craft by your own actions, give it a look. Not everything can be enjoyed by everybody, but I believe zombies can be killed by all! So let us all kill zombies together however we please!