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DayZ and the Future of Virtual Realism

The rise of simulated fantasy is all around us.

Sometimes I want to play games where I can summon Ifrit and fight enemies on the sides of buildings.  Other times I want to leap across moving platforms, flatten enemies with my butt, and collect shiny stuff.  But then there’re times when I want to play a game where I get dysentery and have to crawl through the woods inch by inch following the sound of buzzing flies to a dead body so I can loot it for supplies.

DayZ is one of those games.  Originally a mod for the harsh military simulation Arma 2 (a game where you can find your way by looking at the constellations), it will soon be released as a stand-alone game for PC, and hopefully, eventually, for consoles.  In DayZ, players are tasked with surviving the zombie apocalypse in a way unfamiliar to video gamers – a way that has you scrounging for food, avoiding bandits, and being fearful of other human players which can be even more dangerous and unpredictable than the undead horde.

There are a lot of sims out there, but few of them are as visceral as DayZ.  While these sorts of gritty and hopeless experiences are common in gaming, they are often presented with unrealistic mechanics and Hollywood-like storylines.  If you compare DayZ to Telltale’s “Walking Dead” game, for instance, you find a world of differences.  While “The Walking Dead” is haunting in its storytelling, crucial decisions, and heart-pounding set-pieces, DayZ instead presents a more mundane dread, a permanent moment rather than scripted scenes, and a sharper, more human experience.  Personally, I don’t think I have ever played any other game that generated such a palpable fear in my heart.  Survival games are becoming more and more popular, but few match DayZ’s realism or lack of mercy.

And that, I think, is a sign of things to come. 

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07/26/2013 at 03:41 PM

Very cool article. I haven't heard a new viewpoint like this in awhile. I suppose that was why ZombieU was popular. Once your character died, they were gone forever. I wish Skyrim was more realistic as well. Even though it was fun to be godlike in those aspects you mentioned, I found it strange that you could swim in the arctic ocean as well. heh

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/26/2013 at 03:49 PM

hey thanks, glad you liked it.  I've been thinking about this article for a while. I mean, I wouldn't want them to change the Elder Scrolls necessarily, because people like them how they are mostly, but it would be nice to have the option for greater realism. 

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

07/26/2013 at 06:07 PM

Great article, Matt. I'm also intrigued by what the future will bring in terms of simulation/more immersive gaming experiences. I think only now is it really being conceptualized, as opposed to before, where features like degrading weapons for example followed a more regimented "use it 3 times and it breaks" system that really didn't make sense. When certain games strive for such realism graphically, the fact that the player (and enemies) can take several shotgun blasts to the face seems a bit ridiculous. I personally cannot wait to dig into a retail copy of DayZ, and I'm hoping they smooth out the mechanics for the zombies and preferably make them slow shamblers (I'm a purist, what can I say?)

Personally, I truly enjoy a nuanced world not entirely like our own. I would be far more interested to explore the nooks and crannies of an alive and breathing Witcher moreso than say, Grand Theft Auto, but that is just my opinion. I shared your interest in a more environmentally-immersive Skyrim experience, and lo-and-behold, there is a great Skyrim Mod called 'Frostfall' where you suffer from the cold, frigid waters will kill, you must set up camp and rest etc. Here is a video to check it out!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/26/2013 at 07:41 PM

hey, thanks, Justin!  Glad you liked it.  Yeah, I'm always looking for more realistic, immersive experiences, and often I'm disappointed.  But I truly think that as time goes by it will be more common.  And you're right: taking several shotgun blasts to the face is a little hard to believe! 

I think I've heard of that Skyrim mod.  I figured there would be mods for this kind of stuff, but since I can't get them to run on my PC, I didn't really research them.  But there's a Skyrim mod for everything, I guess.

Glad you enjoyed the article!


07/26/2013 at 09:01 PM

I never really given these things much thought. Can't say I've ever played a game with such detailed attempts at immersion nor have I wanted to, though I can see the appeal. The constant fear of death in DayZ sounds reminiscent of my short time with Demon's Souls, though, and that has me intrigued because I can't say I've ever had a similar experience to Demon's Souls.

I'm sure someone will some day make a game with a truly living city. It will also probably take a thousand-person team ten years to make and cost a billion dollars Tongue Out

Anyway, good article. You have a good "voice" for this sort of writing. Keep it up!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

07/26/2013 at 10:12 PM

thanks, man, I'm glad u liked it. 

I was really impressed with DayZ, obviously.  There was a realism yet an immediacy that I hadn't seen elsewhere. 

And yeah, someday there will be a truly living virtual city.  What a sight that will be.

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