Note: I wrote a followup to this article here.
I have 172 hours logged in DayZ. I bought it in January, after my partner suggested it as a game we play together. The first time we played was a weekend and we played for 13 hours straight. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I mostly multiplayer games these days. I have a little over 200 hours in Left for Dead 2 and almost 100 in Team Fortress 2. DayZ is unlike those in a lot of ways, but one in particular – every time since I started playing, I log on and I wonder: is this the time? It hasn’t happened yet. That was close, but they didn’t actually say it. I’ve put in over 50 hours, maybe I’m lucky. I’ve put in over 100 hours, maybe I’m being paranoid. I’ve put in over 150 hours, I am one of “those girls” who see it everywhere, things are actually okay.
Today my streak ended and someone told me in game VOIP that they wanted to rape me.
DayZ is a survival horror game. It’s a standalone game based on a mod of Arma 2 by the same name, by Dean Hall. The mod enjoyed massive success and since the alpha version of the standalone was released on Steam Early Access in December, it has sold more than 1 million copies, consistently topping the Steam charts. The player recorded videos are funny and the community actively posts on Reddit and the DayZ forums, posting locations of loot spawns, pictures of the scenery, and locations of bandits, so other, more well-geared players can hunt down those who ruthlessly hunt new spawns.
DayZ is fascinating to me (I’m a relatively new gamer and never played the mod). You start as a new spawn, with just your clothes and a flashlight. You immediately start to feel hungry and thirsty. More than likely you spawn somewhere on the vast coast, either in a town or somewhere strung between. There is no map. If you’ve never played, you probably have absolutely no idea where you are. And there are zombies. You start running to find food and when you do, it’s probably in a can that you can’t open without a screwdriver or a knife. You need water, and if you find a lake, you can drink, but then you realize it’s probably contaminated and then you’re dead. And so you respawn back to where you were, or, more often than not, somewhere kilos and kilos away. There are no vehicles. You can only run at a moderately decent pace.
So you start again with nothing and maybe this time someone shoots you for no real reason at all – they have a gun and they’re bored and you’re just a Bambi, a new spawn, helpless as a baby deer. You fall off a ladder (my falling off ladder stories are hilarious and numerous – it’s a story every player probably has and they’re something you just shake your head and laugh at) and break your legs and a zombie catches you. You spawn too far away from anything so you climb to the top of a silo and jump off it, after ceremoniously taking off your clothes and casting them aside. You run into a dangerous city with your fists up and try to punch out guys with guns so you get guns and then you have guns until someone else kills you with their gun and then they get your gun and you start all over again.
It sounds boring. One of the tags on Steam is “running simulator” and I look at that tag with affection, because it’s true. You run far more than you do anything else. You do nothing for an hour and then have 3 minutes of intense gameplay and then do it all over again.
And yet I find DayZ endlessly interesting. The voice chat is positional, meaning you only hear other players who are in your immediate vicinity. Guns are king. You have extremely limited resources spread across a wide world. There are very few zombies right now and if you’re uninjured, you can usually outrun them. The main threat to players right now is players. Eventually I imagine the game will have a more PvE feel, but as it is now, with nothing to do and no immediate zombie risk, it feels more PvP. It doesn’t seem like my type of game, but it is, because of the way the players interact with the limited resources and other players.
You can choose to be a bandit – get some guns, hide on hills, and snipe other players. You can be a hero – hunt down those who are hunting unarmed others. There are videos of brave firefighters and scary cults. I’ve tried to play a medic, loading my character with medical supplies and dressing in red. I’ve been a bandit (yes, I have, and if you played you have too, don’t lie) and shot people because I could. Most of the time I’m nobody and just run around looking for supplies and people until I get killed. DayZ appeals to me because of the human interaction, because you can be good or bad or nothing. You are forced to communicate with others.
People sing. When I’m unarmed and have nothing, I take off my pants and run into the middle of cities making whale noises hoping that nobody will shoot me and might think I’m funny. I’ve been kidnapped, taken to church, and forced to read from a Bible. I wiggle at people. I always, always, always say hello to Steve the Floor Zombie. I wave toward Sniper Hill, run straight to school gun spawn in Cherno when I get there, and shed my pants on top of the silo in Solnichniy when I spawn there and am too lazy to run south.
It can be an extremely rich world. You get what you put into the game.
For the most part I’ve had only positive player interactions in DayZ. Some people are jerks and I try not to get worked up about people killing me when I’m a new spawn, but I’ve done it to others. I sound feminine, so I get a lot of “hey, are you a girl or a 12 year old boy?” (probably north of two dozen times). I’ve gotten some of the novelty “girl gamer” jokes but for the most part, people really don’t care that I’m a girl – they’re mostly interested in not starving to death or punching me in the face to steal my supplies.
Yet every time I log in I still think it – is today the day someone tells me I’m going to get raped?
Today that happened.
I was a new spawn. I had just gotten killed near the Balota Airfield, like I have countless times. I recklessly ran into the jail while my friends told me not to and of course there was somebody there. I said hello, got the “are you a girl or a 12 year old boy?” joke and then I got shot. I respawned west of Kamishovo and started running toward Elektro when two geared guys with guns told me to stop running.
I stopped, put my hands up, and said hello. They told me to take off my clothes. I didn’t really think anything of it. It’s happened so often I don’t even think it’s weird anymore. I wiggled at them in my decidedly unsexy underpants – white star underwear (which looked surprisingly American patriotic, considering the game is made by a guy from New Zealand and set in an area of Russia) and a white, blue, and pink striped tshirt. I always choose a female model character. This character’s hair is cut short, in a tight bun. It’s a pretty unsexy model, honestly. There’s no frill.
I took off my clothes and one of them made a comment about how I was a girl. One of them said that he hadn’t gotten pussy since the end of the world. He was pointing a gun at my face. I made a disgusted noise over my mic and started to back up and said his friend wasn’t sure if they should kill me or not. I called him a sick puppy. He said that unfortunately for me, he was into necrophilia , and that he wanted to rape my dead body, and then he shot me.
When you die or become unconscious in DayZ, you see nothing but a black screen with the words “You are dead” or “You are unconscious.” You don’t see who kills you. You can still hear what the people around you are saying or doing, so you can still hear if they’re rummaging through your supplies or taking clothes off your corpse.
The guys who shot me made moaning and groaning noises. You can still talk in chat, so I tried to yell at them, but they were louder. I gave up and was too rattled to respawn, so I just logged off and left my desk. I didn’t play again that night.
The appeal of DayZ is the freedom to do what you want. There are no rules. There are no penalties for shooting unarmed people or killing yourself. There are no quests, no storylines, and for the most part, no direction. You spawn in with nothing and then you immediately start the process of dying. When you do die, it’s quick and simple. You don’t see the name of the player who killed you. Sometimes you don’t know where they shot you from or why.
It’s a stunningly realistic world without any in-game repercussions for anything you do wrong.
Since first playing, I wondered, and still wonder, how far they will push the boundaries of what you can do to other players. Right now you can handcuff people, put a bag over their head, and feed them rotten food. You can even break someone’s legs so they can’t run. You can be extremely cruel to someone by holding them with broken legs and not let them die and respawn (you can’t just respawn in DayZ – you have one character and you have to die to get a new one).
Someone recently remarked to me how “cool” it would be to tape someone’s mouth shut and kidnap them. And then torture them, with the seemingly useless pliers that are everywhere in the game right now. To use the seemingly useless hammers to break their legs slowly. You kill them slowly, in a way that would be considered sick and painful in real life.
The very idea of that makes me sick.
And I think it tells a lot about gender and power. Taping someone’s mouth shut scares me, and I bet it scares a lot of other women the same way – because we live with the threat of rape more than men and because that imagery has been an image we’ve all probably thought about. It was a surprise to me that the person making this remark to me didn’t see it that way at first, when it was so nauseating to me. I don’t want to give the impression that he’s a bad person; he simply doesn’t live with that imagery like I do.
The power to hold someone against their will, to hold them so they can’t escape, no matter how hard they try, and then to threaten them with the gruesome things that have happened to us or we imagine can happen to us if someone was just determined – that idea came into my head immediately.
Would I feel this way if I was a guy? I don’t know, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten that rape comment, either. I know very few women who play the game and in trawling through the web, I haven’t found many either. In my hundreds of hours of playing, I’ve met less than a handful of declared women players. I’m sure I’ve been killed by and encountered other women who don’t use the VOIP. The forum post I started on Reddit was downvoted more than it was upvoted and I found two posts about the game on the official DayZ forums, one about the mod and one about the standalone. Most of the replies echoed my own experience, that the player had either encountered few women or they hadn’t met any (along with the assortment of “why are you even asking this question?” and “of course women play this game, you aren’t special” comments).
Why did this experience in DayZ scare me so much?
On the surface, I feel that it looks shallow. I was told I was going to get raped by a person I’ve never met, probably somewhere I’ve never been. I will more than likely never come into contact with that person in game again. I was a pixelated person in a computer generated world. I’ve been told that in other online games. My skin is thick enough to normally weather these types of things. I don’t get it enough where it normally makes me feel unsafe. And I don’t fear that people who play Skyrim are going to think that dragons exist, and I don’t fear that kids who play Mario are going to jump onto turtles, and I don’t fear that killing people in Battlefield is going to make me want to kill people in real life (although I do think military shooters glorify military culture, which is an entirely different topic).
But DayZ scared me. Its’ players have the capability to hurt other players in real time. What happens when you lose to a dragon in Skyrim? What happens when you fall off a ledge in Mario? What happens when you get shot in Battlefield? You just die. You lose all your stuff, maybe, and you start back, sometimes hours back from your last save point, but it’s quick. You respawn and you go on your way.
In DayZ, you can make characters suffer. You can kidnap. You can torture. You can make it a long death. You can make it an even longer awful existence.
Will I play DayZ again? Yes. I think it’s far too interesting to give up. For this one incident I have far too many other shining moments of human decency and kindness. I think it’s a tremendous insight into human psyche and the fact that it looks beautiful on my computer doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, I don’t want to stop playing. And I don’t want others to, either. I don’t want to take experiences away from anyone; it’s not my right to tell someone what or what they cannot create. It’s not my right to tell anyone what to do with their own character in a game online.
I do think it’s worth it, however, to examine why DayZ appeals to such massive amounts of people (it’s been a top seller on Steam since the day it was released) and when to draw the line of what players are allowed to do other players in game. I don’t know if DayZ will ever give you the official way to torture somebody. I don’t think it will. That doesn’t mean some other game won’t, though.
I have wondered from day one when I would get this comment and I have now. Will I still wonder if I’m going to get this comment when I meet new people? That’s a yes too.
DayZ is about choices and your reactions to those choices you make. You feed your friend some rotten fruit. You laugh. You shoot someone in the head who was running away. You laugh. You make people take off their pants and do funny dances for you. You laugh. You find a new spawn with a feminine voice, you make them take off their clothes, you tell them that it’s the end of the world and you haven’t gotten laid since then and that you’re going to rape them, and then you say you’re into necrophilia and you shoot them and start making moaning noises while they can still hear you.
When do you stop laughing?