Sur­viv­ing hu­man na­ture in Facepunch’s en­durance test

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Rust is strange as only un­fin­ished games can be. A naked fig­ure on the hori­zon might sud­denly ap­pear head­less, or dis­tort in bizarre con­tor­tions. A bear might dis­ap­pear through a wall, never to be seen again. Kill a deer and you’ll har­vest chicken breasts from its corpse. Server wipes have fre­quently oblit­er­ated ev­ery­thing that Rust’s play­ers have built, lend­ing ev­ery­thing a sense of im­per­ma­nence – par­tic­u­larly your own ex­is­tence, which is usu­ally short-lived.

A sur­vival game with a Lord Of The Flies twist, Rust takes place on a large is­land dec­o­rated not with palm fronds and azure wa­ters but with sparse trees, rocky hills and player-cre­ated wooden struc­tures. It’s rich with wildlife, though, with pigs and deer that can be stalked through the tall grass. Crude zom­bies used to roam these lands, too, look­ing for the light of a camp­fire at night. But Rust has no need for ar­ti­fi­cial threats – even the re­place­ment red bears and wolves are plug­ging a gap – since the play­ers pro­vide enough dan­ger them­selves.

You might imag­ine that a first day in Rust con­sists of gath­er­ing, build­ing a shel­ter, a spot of hunt­ing and a night hud­dled by the camp­fire in your makeshift home, but usu­ally things are dif­fer­ent. You might be im­pris­oned in­side the cor­ru­gated iron fort of a sadist pos­ing as a Sa­mar­i­tan, or marched naked at gun­point to the tow­er­ing wooden palace of ban­dit kings. Al­ter­na­tively, none of this might hap­pen, and you might get stuck in a frus­trat­ing cy­cle of spawn­ing and dy­ing at the hands of bet­ter-equipped sur­vival­ists. It all de­pends on the server, and who you play with.

Death is such an in­con­se­quen­tial thing in Rust, just a nat­u­ral by-prod­uct of life on the is­land. It’s only when you start to build up col­lec­tions of cloth­ing and weapons – ei­ther scav­enged from the back­packs of ri­vals or cob­bled to­gether from the re­sources of wood, stone, metal, an­i­mal cloth and fat – that you start to feel like death is any­thing more than a mo­men­tary but in­evitable in­con­ve­nience. Craft­ing is very ba­sic, and will doubt­less ben­e­fit from more items and a more ap­peal­ing in­ter­face when Rust is closer to com­ple­tion, but it takes a lot of time and per­se­ver­ance to as­sem­ble ad­vanced kit. Find­ing it on a corpse feels like win­ning the sur­vival lot­tery.

Ev­ery time you die, you respawn with noth­ing but a rock and a torch. There are per­sis­tent el­e­ments: what­ever you’ve built, stored in crates, or learned from the blue­prints hid­den in ir­ra­di­ated struc­tures dot­ted about the is­land will re­main. Some­one can al­ways come along and steal your stuff, how­ever, which makes base for­ti­fi­ca­tion one of Rust play­ers’ chief ob­ses­sions.

Most servers are an­ar­chic free-for-alls where loose groups com­pete vi­o­lently

You don’t have much of a chance on your own, and while most Rust servers are an­ar­chic free-for-alls where loose groups com­pete vi­o­lently over mea­gre re­sources, oth­ers are home to fas­ci­nat­ing so­cial struc­tures. Take the 50-per­son team work­ing to­gether to build a tower so tall that the game breaks, or the two large set­tle­ments car­ry­ing out pro­tracted cam­paigns of guer­rilla war­fare.

There’s much to see as a tourist in Rust, but the people who are get­ting the most out of the game at the mo­ment are those who are leading clans, found­ing set­tle­ments, and carv­ing their own niche out of its rocky land­scape. They have con­quered Rust’s strange im­per­fec­tions or turned them to their ad­van­tage and be­come self-made masters of this wilder­ness. Like DayZ, Rust can be proof of the ten­dency to an­ar­chy in player-de­fined so­cial spa­ces, but also of hu­man in­ge­nu­ity and com­mu­nal spirit. This sur­vival­ist fan­tasy is the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for the adapt­abil­ity and cun­ning that got us to the top of the food chain in the first place.

TOP Rust’s is­land is beau­ti­ful in an un­der­stated way – the light dif­fuses gor­geously across the sparse land­scape, and you learn to live by the po­si­tion of the sun. ABOVE En­coun­ters with other play­ers rarely go well for new­bies, since you spawn with­out so much as a shirt on your back for pro­tec­tion. (In­deed, one of the most pop­u­lar mods re­moves the mod­esty-trousers to re­veal avatars’ full naked glory.) RIGHT The zom­bies looked and felt out of place in this other­wise nat­u­ral­is­tic wilder­ness, an im­posed threat where none was re­ally needed – so it’s just as well that they’ve been patched out, even if they have been re­placed with bears

TOP Build­ings right now are all made of ei­ther wooden planks or cor­ru­gated iron, and can tower sto­ries high. It’s easy to imag­ine how more com­plex craft­ing could change the look of the game. ABOVE Home is where your sleep­ing bag is; the only way to con­trol where you re­vive af­ter death is to craft one and place it in your makeshift base. Other­wise, you will spawn out in the wilder­ness, with lit­tle hope of ever mak­ing it back

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