How player interaction makes DayZ a fascinating social experiment

DayZ

In the rare occasions when they don’t shoot you on sight, bandits will order you to raise your hands by pressing the F2 key, and it’s wise to obey their commands.

The word ‘bandit’ is a catch-all term in DayZ for armed players who prey on the weak. Some bandits perch on hills overlooking coastal towns where new players spawn and snipe them for sport. Others hold them up, handcuff them, then steal their blood to restore their own, or force-feed them rotten fruit. Large groups will move between PVP hotspots – cities, airfields, military camps – actively seeking out conflict and killing anyone they see. It’s a play style that’s frequently cursed by the community, but one as legitimate as any other. Bohemia’s million-selling Steam Early Access game is a powerful story generator and a rich survival sandbox, but it’s also an increasingly fascinating social experiment.

Bandits thrive in DayZ because, in its current state, there’s no endgame to speak of. When you reach the point where you have plenty of weapons, ammo, food, and water, there’s very little to do besides cause mischief. But some have found imaginative and altruistic ways to fill their time as a so-called geared player. A person who decides to become, in the parlance of the community, a ‘hero’ will dedicate themselves to helping and protecting new spawns – or bambis as they’re not-so-affectionately known. Some will fill boxes with food and medical supplies and leave them scattered around common spawn areas as care packages.

But bandits can also be imaginative, and some will go to great lengths to rob players. In Berezino, a large city on the east coast, someone posing as a new player suggested we loot a nearby airfield together, only to lead me into an ambush after ten minutes of small talk and hiking across the countryside. They cuffed me, raided my backpack for valuables, then left me starving and defenceless in the middle of nowhere, laughing as they departed. There have also been cases of armed players forcing people to fight to the death at gunpoint, or sing Justin Bieber songs in exchange for their lives being spared.

If a player logs out when they’re handcuffed they die. The only way to release them is with keys, which spawn separately from the cuffs themselves.

Others will simply shoot you on sight, which is one of the most frustrating ways to die in DayZ. Hours of work can be undone by a single bullet, usually by an unseen player hiding in the trees or on top of a building. Mostly, this is out of fear. Genuinely friendly players are a rare occurrence in Chernarus, so it’s usually safer to assume that any survivor with a weapon, whether it’s in their hands or slung over their shoulder, is a threat. Playing with a microphone is essential, as hearing a human voice will often stop would-be murderers in their tracks. A friendly ‘hello’ can be all it takes to save you from a sudden and ignominious end.

Character customisation is a new addition to the standalone version of DayZ, and clothing choice has developed into a way for players to communicate their intentions. Military green, a ballistic helmet, and a mask – either a gas mask or a Payday 2 clown mask – has become the de facto uniform of the bandit. A glimpse of a player clad in this outfit elicits a Pavlovian panic response from long-time players, as their presence usually means trouble. In response, friendly players – and sly bandits – have begun to favour basic civilian clothes over intimidating military gear. But regardless of your attire, the sight of a gun is usually enough to invite trouble. Rifles can’t be hidden, but axes and pistols can be stowed away in your backpack.

Aggressive players who mindlessly kill on sight are an inherent and unavoidable part of DayZ’s social dynamic, but they can also make it a gruelling and exasperating experience, especially for new players. Bohemia have talked about adding base-building, farming, and other long-term goals to the game in future updates, which should give bored, geared players something greater to strive for than picking off new players on the coast. Creating and protecting makeshift communities in the wilderness could force players to work together.

Other gestures bound to the function keys include clapping, pointing, waving, and giving a friendly thumbs up. More are being added as new updates roll out.

But without this, or any kind of compelling endgame in place, DayZ runs the risk of being overrun by trigger happy bandits. Give a player a gun and nothing else to do and they’ll probably shoot someone. This is undoubtedly fun for like-minded players with the means to defend themselves, but will make ascending from fresh spawn to self-sufficient survivor even more arduous for new ones. Experimental 100-player test servers are currently available on the game’s optional experimental branch, and within minutes of connecting you join the piles of bodies littering the streets of major towns and cities. It’s chaos, and feels more like an elaborate deathmatch arena than the survival simulation Bohemia intends it to be.

But, of course, the game is still in the alpha phase, and changes are constantly being made to combat certain unsavoury player behaviour. A 30-second logout timer was added in a recent update to prevent ‘combat logging’, whereby players log out of the game when they come under fire, cheating their assailant out of a kill. Bohemia has also said that it is trying to figure out ways to humanise players more, to add real weight to the idea of killing another person. Whatever direction DayZ takes as it slowly approaches beta, in its current state it is one of the most intriguing and captivating social multiplayer experiences in games today.