DayZ, Banditry, and Player Interaction

3 Sep

It’s impossible to argue against the inclusion of bandits in DayZ. With guns, intelligence and the ability to move at full speed while indoors they’re at least three up on the zombies, who can currently be defeated by running around a corner and crouching. They’re the threat, the enemy, the instigators of tension. DayZ could not exist without them.

At the same time, they’re kind of crap. And not just because of the kind of greedy, solipsistic worldview that leads to a man slaughtering another for a tin of cold beans, but because they foster a shallow and unimaginative playstyle that directly prevents more interesting interactions.

Assume Tim, a fresh spawn with nothing to offer the discerning highwayman, is shot dead by a fellow player, either for sport or because the shooter thought – for whatever reason – that he was carrying valuable loot. Tim is thusly led to believe that other players are uncooperative thugs, and can only be dealt with in kind. Tim subsequently kills the next survivor he sees, Tom, regardless of Tom’s intentions, behaviour or cries of “FRIENDLY!” over voice chat.

DayZ’s servers are moving closer to shoot-on-sight deathmatch arenas than Ground Zeroes of a zombie apocalypse (some bandits argue their presence contributes to a sense of realism – whilst partly true, I’d suggest that potential real-life bandits probably won’t find military-grade rifles in fire stations and ghillie suits in the backs of pubs). There would be far more tense, scary, funny and dramatic meetings between players if the majority of them weren’t conditioned to immediately think everyone else wants them dead.

Amazingly, me and a friend actually experienced such an occurrence a couple of nights ago – only the second non-hostile armed survivor in four weeks of playing. He emerged from some bushes overlooking a city, asking for help tracking another player. The possibilities were terrifyingly varied: was he going to earn our trust, then shoot us in the back? Would he lure us somewhere, then have an allied sniper do it? Was he genuinely friendly? Was he friendly but considering murder after eyeing up our superior gear?

We defused the situation by lying – we said we’d take the right approach around a building while he flanked left, then ran away – but that half a minute of conversation managed to be both the longest and most panicked interaction I’ve had with another survivor, simply by the virtue of not knowing what he would do. I’m only saddened that it took a month to happen.

Ideally, PvP would remain, but would seem an attractive option to only a select minority of psychopaths; the minibosses of DayZ, if you will. The recent reinstatement of the Humanity system is therefore a smart one – skins act as a neat reward for medics and as an ‘I deserve to be shot’ badge for bandits, while rightfully keeping the motivations of everyone else a mystery. Still, if dull sniping and casual mass murder are to be replaced with fragile alliances and Mexican standoffs, it’s the playerbase – not DayZ – that needs to change its ways. The sense of risk and danger that form of the soul of this unique and wonderful thing can be kept, but not every chance for a meaningful encounter has to end at the muzzle of a gun.

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