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.



Double-Oh! Dead

Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall spoilers follow.

All good things come to an end, so sayeth the optimists of the world. It’s a sentiment that needn’t be as dire as it might first seem: sometimes the end of a good thing can lead to even better things. Other times, it simply stops the good from rotting.

Since the beginning of Daniel Craig’s tenure, the Bond franchise has been almost entirely the very best of things: it’s seen its best writing to date, best lead actor and Bond to date, two of its best films to date (no, not Quantum of Solace), and now with Skyfall, the best cast-list to date. What’s more, it’s even had a true continuity of plot between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and an emotional continuity across all three: Bond is not the same man at the beginning of Skyfall that he was at the beginning of Casino Royale, nor QoS. 

Each outing have been marked by the recurring motifs of death, more death, and human weakness leading to death; and with Skyfall’s focus on the old giving way to the new, these past three adventures have formed themselves into a pseudo-trilogy of sorts. Virtually anyone in the least bit close to Bond has met their end: Vesper in Casino, Mathis in QoS, and now M in Skyfall. (Not to mention that pretty much anyone he manages to get his penis inside kicks the bucket as well.) But as we see at M’s death, the man himself is no longer shouldering all of this wanton destruction quite as well as he used to. He is getting older, and he is getting weaker.

And so, James Bond must die.

Because how much more is there left to explore? We’ve seen him become an agent and lose the woman he loved, witnessed the loss of his friends, learnt about his tragic childhood and now seen the death of what-may-as-well-be his Mother too. A character can only see so much death before they’re less lucky and more just lower down on their writer’s waiting list.

No longer are we watching The Adventures of James Bond. We did that for 40 years, and it only led us to Die Another Day and a franchise in desperate need of a fresh start. With that fresh start came a new Bond and a new focus: now we’re bearing witness to The Life and Times of James Bond. And every life – like all good things – must come to an end.