I followed what use to be the Arma 2 mod, Day Z, for about a year now. I kept hearing survival stories from those that have played it. Tales of hopelessness, scarce resources, the constant threat of the dead… and living. Living, breathing players that are equally capable of showing compassion or animosity. Of course I never had a copy of Arma 2 in order to experience Day Z. As a fan of all things zombie-related, I was forced to maintain a distant envy until the promised final product was released. Just last week Day Z shuffled it’s way onto Steam Early Access. I FINALLY got to experience what the fuss was all about first-hand. This is the story of my harrowing two-hour nightmare.
After arranging to meet with a buddy in-game, I booted up Day Z to find myself on the coast of Chernarus. The waves of the shore washing up behind me. My character was already stricken with thirst and I was armed with only a flashlight. Also, it was night time. Not a great start. After wrapping my head around the controls, I had some semblance of what Day Z was trying to communicate to me. Everything is very deliberate, crouching and going into the prone position takes some time. Even switching inventory items takes time as your in-game avatar equips items to have readily in hand.
I could barely see anything in front of me without having to use my flashlight. Unlike other first-person experiences, you don’t just spawn in with your friends – you have to find them. I could either stumble around in the dark in search of my friend or use the flashlight and announce my presence to zombies or a hostile player. I decided on intermittent and highly discretionary use of my flashlight just as I received a Steam message from my buddy Shane. He tells me that the Moon is to his right and the ocean is to his left, I had the moon to my left and the ocean to my right. We decided to meet half-way since neither of us had maps. Not the best plan, but it was a start.
I was absolutely terrified as I made my way along the shore. The heavy howls of the wind and dense woods played with my head. A dimly lit cabin off in the distance provided little comfort. With only my bare fists to fight off any potential assailants, my options were non-existent. I had to check out the cabin. I armed my flashlight as I searched inside. The wallpaper was peeling and all the windows were shattered. I found myself a can of soda and a banana sitting on a dusty table. They weren’t weapons, but I counted my blessings. I had my character chug the cola in hopes that it would quench his thirst. I’d save the banana for later. As I lowered the can, I saw a flashlight cut through a building down the street. I messaged Shane, but he told me it wasn’t him. If there are better supplies down the street, I didn’t want to be without it. Even if I had to hide from any pursuers or worse, fight them off… with a banana.
I crept out of the cabin and made my way towards a three-story building. I rationalized the more rooms a building has, the higher the possibilities of coming across either blunt weapons or more food. I’m certainly crossing my fingers for a weapon of some kind at this point. On my approach to the building a figure popped out from around the corner and startled me to the point of fumbling my mouse. Was it a zed-head? No, or else it would’ve been biting at my face by now. It was another player. He just stood their staring at me and all I could do was stare back. Was he about to pop me? Perhaps a fire-axe to my collar bone? “Do you have any food?”, he asks. “Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed” he promises. I assured him I wasn’t armed and tossed him my only banana. I inquired about the tall building behind him. He told me that he already checked it out, nothing. Just nothing. I felt naive as I thought about my previous assumptions. “We need to get off the streets, this area is crawling with them.” In other games, I’d laugh at this level of caution. Gamers have spent a majority of their pastime mowing down legions of the undead without batting an eye. Not in Day Z. Only a few are enough to kill you and all the progress you’ve made.
I followed my new friend into a small house. “I have canned food, but we won’t be able to eat without a can-opener” he mentions. Shane messages me to say he’s in a town called Komarovo. I peak through a broken window to see a sign reading “Komarovo 3 ==>” I sigh to myself and reported the distance to Shane.
He returns with ” ” I heard some violent snarls just outside the house. My fellow stranded heard the same as he ducks out into the streets. I yell out to him over my mic. No response. Three figures blurred across the doorway I was near. After checking if my exit was clear, I ran out of the house in the opposite direction. I saw them chase my short-lived acquaintance down the street. Maybe he was leading them away from me? Maybe he abandoned me? Maybe I abandoned him? Who knows? I’m still alive. I followed the shore towards Shane, forcing my character in a continuous sprint. His raspy breathing took over my ear piece. Were the zeds chasing me? I wouldn’t dare look back even if they were. Suddenly, I see a flashlight in the grass attached to a man. “Yerp” Shane says. I’ve never been so relieved to see a friendly in a game. I look back where I ran from. Nothing. That’s a good sign.
Shane led me back to the town he came from. There I found an axe, a backpack, and helmet. It all seemed so advantageous, until my character’s stomach rumbled and thirst began to take a hold of me again. Shane told me his character hadn’t eaten at all. We snaked our way through nearby houses and sneaked our way around a handful of zombies, just several feet away from some, only to find a soda and an orange. Shane ate the orange as I cracked open the soda. This would not sustain us for long. I regretted giving away that banana I found earlier. Things would’ve been different. We decided to move away from the shore and head inland. As we come to a grassy clearing Shane tells me his character is seeing only black and white. We see a farm house just up the hill, our last beacon of hope. As we sprint towards it, Shane succumbs to malnourishment and death takes him. As I try to salvage equipment from my departed friend, a shriek rings off near me. A zombie is in full sprint towards me and it is shortly joined by another. I switch to the axe I found earlier. I backpedal and swing the axe at my assailants. I missed a few swings out of panic. Some solid methodical strikes drops the first and a little bit of luck dropped the second. I hadn’t realized I held my breath the entire encounter. I found myself with genuine, nearly unbearable anxiety as I stood there by myself in the dark. I decide to end my session there. Shane tells me he’s logging off, but I can tell he’s hungry for more.
So am I.