Game of the Year: DayZ

How do you write a love letter to someone you know will never love you back? Moreover, how do you admit that the only reason you love such a person is because they don’t love you back? Such are the questions that I imagine face literally tens of people every day. But enough of that, let’s talk about my Game of the Year pick, DayZ: the baddest man in the whole damn town.

Gaming has a habit, a pretty bloody bad one, of tugging on the knee of cinema and asking it for advice. Cinema then ignores it, and gaming proceeds to steal cinema’s casual wear t-shirts and chinos when its not looking. It’s a decent enough ensemble for cinema on a chill day, but for gaming it’s just ill-fitting. And often not in a slightly oversized or slightly skinny way either: they just don’t look good on gaming. It’s awkward. But because the clothes are more expensive and better looking than anything gaming and its friends have ever worn before, they all accept it as looking great. Well, if there’s one thing that DayZ has shown me, it’s that it’s about fucking time gaming began to tailor its own shit.

(And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy games that have at least bought their own t-shirts and chinos that do fit, even if the t-shirt’s got a reference to cinema emblazoned on the front. But the stolen clothes seem to remain in the majority, at least when it comes to the mainstream, and increasingly I find myself entirely disinterested in that considerably large side of things.)

Films are manipulative. So are books. So is music. So are an awful lot of games. Each of them aims to make you feel something at a specific moment – they whisper in your ear and give you a little push in the right direction.  You might fall the wrong way or not even move, but there’s a silent acknowledgement that you’re being in some way pressured to react and feel. DayZ takes a more deistic approach: it just doesn’t give a fuck about you. About to die from hunger and thirst, with no food around? Tough shit. Having your arse torn apart by zombies? Should have been more careful, bitch. Other players griefing you? Other players are arse holes, and so are you for that matter. And that’s what makes it work: because you’re not being pushed or persuaded into feeling one way or another, anything and everything you do feel is organic. The fact that you’re playing a game doesn’t matter, because now every emotional response you have is a genuine one. (Of course, the downside is the fact that if DayZ were a person, it’d be someone’s abusive spouse.)

Compare this to my second choice for Game of the Year, Mass Effect 3. I talked about it a little in my last post and said this:

What that last ending didn’t do was make me angry. It made me feel sick, genuinely anxious about facing that final firefight in the rubble of London, and possessively nostalgic for the characters and events of the series’ past.

I maintain that I do love Mass Effect 3 for achieving what it does, emotionally: no game before it had done so quite as convincingly. But when you look back on it in the face of DayZ, the millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, five years of releases and ninety or so hours of gameplay to get there start to look less impressive and more puzzlingly unnecessary. Because all it takes for DayZ to facilitate the same feelings of dread, guilt, regret, anxiousness and excitement is a shitty little pistol, a building potentially full of life-saving gear and the mere suggestion of another player in the same vicinity; a person as wildly unpredictable and potentially dangerous to you as you are to them.

Often I’ve said that DayZ is, more than anything, a story generator. Each new character brings with them a new tale, whether it’s a short vignette before an immediate death, or a winding narrative over the course of many hours and days. But now I think that, more than even that, it’s a game about letting you feel – whatever that feeling may be.