Hunger Games

Eat. Fight. Die. Why have sur­vival games sud­denly be­come self-suf­fi­cient?

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY AN­GUS MOR­RI­SON

What is be­hind the surge of games with sub­sis­tence at their core, led by the gru­elling DayZ?

Sur­vival games have made a name for them­selves re­cently. Even two years ago, there was lit­tle no­tion of a dis­crete sur­vival genre – a term that still takes some chew­ing over. To­day, the Steam charts seethe with such games, most of which pu­pate at length in Early Ac­cess. A sen­ti­ment you’ll hear re­peated is that DayZ and its ilk have rep­re­sented bold risks, some­thing un­prece­dented that pub­lish­ers chas­ing bank­able cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ences have ig­nored to their cost. But this has all been done be­fore: games in which a core ob­jec­tive is sub­sis­tence cropped up through­out the ’90s, with ti­tles such as Robin­son’s Re­quiem and Stranded Kids be­ing mar­keted in­stead as sim­u­la­tions and adventure games. Kon­ami – which made and pub­lished the lat­ter, plus its spir­i­tual se­quel, Lost In Blue – isn’t ex­actly an art­house stu­dio.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a nar­row idea fix­ate the in­dus­try ei­ther, but the sud­den resur­gence of an old and only mod­er­ately popular con­cept un­der new brand­ing is perplexing. Dou­bly so when you take the com­po­nents of sur­vival in turn: gath­er­ing, eat­ing, drink­ing and sleep­ing. Peo­ple are clus­ter­ing around half-fin­ished post-so­ci­etal sim­u­la­tions in which they at­tempt to do what they achieve each day: live. The longer you play a game such as DayZ, H1Z1 or Rust, the more you can be said to be per­form­ing ad­e­quately.

Some­thing must have pro­vided the im­pe­tus for an old and psy­cho­log­i­cally cu­ri­ous idea to ac­quire its own genre la­bel. Not that there’s agree­ment on what that genre en­tails, of course – some games, such as 11 Bit Stu­dios’ This War Of Mine, have been branded sur­vival much to the sur­prise of their de­vel­op­ers. ‘Sur­vival’ has be­come a term ap­plied not as part of mar­ket­ing cam­paigns but by popular ac­cord, sig­ni­fy­ing Early Ac­cess in­vest­ments in un­for­giv­ing life sims and link­ing the likes of DayZ and Rust by their ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive.

The similarities run deeper than that, though. First, all sur­vival games de­mand over­sight of needs in­te­gral to hu­man ex­is­tence, typ­i­cally bat­tling the pri­mary trio of hunger, thirst and tired­ness – sex drive re­mains, mer­ci­fully, un­sim­u­lated. Sec­ond, the pro­tag­o­nist’s at­tributes, such as strength, stamina and fragility, more closely ap­prox­i­mate those of real hu­mans. Third, all sur­vival games pun­ish neg­li­gence with loss, ei­ther of items ac­crued or progress made. Fourth, no sur­vival game is lin­ear. You are forced to make choices about re­source man­age­ment based on limited in­for­ma­tion.

Not one of th­ese rules is unique to sur­vival. This ‘new’ genre is a patch­work of de­sign trends dat­ing back as far as games them­selves. It is, af­ter all, only the GUI and our sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief that trans­form the raw maths of com­put­ing into health, thirst or body heat. And food was a sta­ple of Ul­tima back in 1981, but the first to mar­ket its vari­ables as sur­vival el­e­ments imag­ined that those num­bers were bul­lets.

When it was re­leased in 1996, Res­i­dent Evil pro­claimed the in­ven­tion of sur­vival hor­ror in loud, drawnout wails. The char­ac­ters, de­spite be­ing mem­bers of the Spe­cial Tac­tics And Res­cue Ser­vice, were china dolls com­pared to the leads of other flag­ship re­leases that year, such as Tomb Raider, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. But the Spencer Es­tate was de­signed to be faced at a dis­ad­van­tage in strength, knowl­edge and re­sources.

In be­ing strictly limited, Res­i­dent Evil’s ra­tioned ammo is syn­ony­mous with DayZ’s tac­ti­cal ba­con or Rust’s anti-rad meds. The mun­dan­ity of the ob­ject is ir­rel­e­vant: each re­in­forces player frailty and grounds your ex­pe­ri­ence in some­thing closer to re­al­ity than Croft’s bot­tom­less pis­tols. How­ever, the pro­tag­o­nists in Res­i­dent Evil are still he­roes fac­ing out­landish evil, with their own de­vel­oper-pre­scribed des­tinies to ful­fil, whereas mod­ern-day sur­vival takes it­self more se­ri­ously and player choice is es­sen­tial. Where has the de­sire to play in grounded sand­boxes come from?

An un­ful­filled lust for player agency in place of scripted ac­tion was demon­strated in 2012, when in­dus­try vet­er­ans such as Brian Fargo and Jor­dan Weis­man used Kick­starter to fund RPGs in the vein of Bal­dur’s Gate, games in which player choice had dras­tic im­pact on the story and your sur­vival. The public re­sponded with mil­lions of dol­lars. It was an ap­peal to nos­tal­gia first, an ad­mis­sion that forc­ing bru­tal de­ci­sions on the player (upon which sur­vival games hinge) wasn’t new, but it was still bet­ter than what riska­verse pub­lish­ers were will­ing to serve up. Com­modore Amiga ti­tles fea­tured sur­vival, Res­i­dent Evil mar­keted it­self as sur­vival, and Waste­land of­fered post-apoc­a­lyp­tic player choice in 1988, but the fash­ion of the ’00s was to favour high-de­sign, scripted ac­tion rather than chance you miss­ing some­thing. The cam­paigns of Call Of Duty 4: Mod­ern War­fare, Un­charted, Gears Of War, and even the hal­lowed Half-Life 2 each tell ex­actly one story: the one in­tended by their de­sign­ers. As Fargo

says on Waste­land 2’ s Kick­starter page, “We have tried to pitch this game mul­ti­ple times to pub­lish­ers, but they’ve balked. They don’t think there’s any in­ter­est in a solid, old-school type of game.” It’s telling that Sony On­line En­ter­tain­ment, now Day­break Game Com­pany, set to work on H1Z1 af­ter DayZ had proved it­self lu­cra­tive.

There’s also the mat­ter of zom­bies: 28 Days Later ar­rived in 2002, Shaun Of The Dead in 2004, and 28 Weeks Later and I Am Leg­end in 2007. In ad­di­tion to popular nos­tal­gia for gam­ing forms gone by, film was en­dur­ing a fash­ion of its own, which cross-con­tam­i­nated me­dia with star­tling viril­ity. Amid re­newed in­ter­est in player choice, worlds wiped of civil­i­sa­tion proved a ready arena for ‘what ifs’ re­gard­ing hu­man be­hav­iour; they were set­tings to ex­plore shades of grey, as op­posed to the su­per­hero sta­ple of then-block­buster gam­ing.

Re­source man­age­ment as the ri­poste to power trips, a very fash­ion­able in­ter­est in worlds gone to hell, and demo­cratic sys­tems through which to re­alise th­ese worlds: this was the en­vi­ron­ment in which the fun­da­ments of ’90s sur­vival could be brought back to­gether and thrive.

This is a popular re­nais­sance, so it’s fit­ting that fans were the first to com­bine th­ese el­e­ments in mod­ern games. A few days af­ter Stalker: Call Of Pripyat was re­leased in 2009, when he was less than a fifth of the way through the game as shipped, Ni­co­lai

Aarøe be­gan to change it. The re­sult­ing mod has gar­nered a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most ex­pan­sive com­mu­nity con­tri­bu­tions to any game. Its con­trib­u­tor list has some 75 names, who to­gether have over­hauled the game’s vi­su­als, AI, physics, econ­omy, food and gear with one aim: to make it harder to sur­vive. Mis­ery is an apt name for this harsh ‘full con­cept’ mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

“I was re­ally look­ing for­ward to Call Of Pripyat,” Aarøe says, “but… I was very dis­ap­pointed. I don’t want to have my health re­gen­er­ate when­ever I eat a sausage! I don’t want to have the con­stant strug­gle of de­cid­ing what ammo I need to toss be­cause there is ammunition ly­ing around ev­ery­where.”

Af­ter an im­me­di­ate vis­ual over­haul – the ir­ra­di­ated Ch­er­nobyl Ex­clu­sion Zone prov­ing too cheery – Aarøe’s pri­or­ity al­ter­ations be­gan to echo the de­sign choices of

Res­i­dent Evil. The player is hu­man­ised, sit­u­ated in the mid­dle of the food chain and made vul­ner­a­ble to attack, mir­ror­ing real flesh and blood. Mis­ery de­mands your at­ten­tion, and when your eyes slip from the screen or you come up one calo­rie short, it kills you.

For this rea­son, many revile Mis­ery, and it’s not hard to see that be­ing sniped by AI across miles of murky heath might feel un­fair. Per­haps it’s no sur­prise that Mis­ery 1.0 was a solo project – who but Aarøe, with his mil­i­tary back­ground, could find un­re­lent­ing strug­gle re­ward­ing? Yet as of De­cem­ber 2014, Mis­ery had been down­loaded more than 600,000 times among a po­ten­tial au­di­ence only as large as Call Of Pripyat’s player­base. The spark for Mis­ery 2.0, which weighs in larger than the orig­i­nal game’s files, came not from Aarøe, but the le­gion of mod­ders who show­ered him with con­tri­bu­tions, de­spite the ini­tial project hav­ing been put to bed. The hunger for a back-to-ba­sics chal­lenge – “living on a stone, as we say in Den­mark” – gnaws at an au­di­ence larger than any gam­ing mar­ket­place in 2009 could have sug­gested.

“In mod­ern so­ci­ety,” Aarøe says, “the only thing that we can re­ally con­sider a strug­gle is keep­ing a bal­ance be­tween your work life and your pri­vate life. You need this es­cape, to be re­ally tested in a sur­vival en­vi­ron­ment to see how you would fare. We’re mov­ing away from the Su­per­man idea and to­wards the con­cept that we see in The Road, for ex­am­ple: this guy who just has one hand­gun and one bul­let, and he could ac­tu­ally spend it on him­self rather than an op­po­nent. It is this harsh en­vi­ron­ment that I find so very ap­peal­ing.”

Pre- DayZ, and be­fore the masses ral­lied again around the com­puter RPG, scep­ti­cism sur­rounded the prof­itabil­ity of games in which the player is not only al­lowed but ex­pected to fail, shack­ling sur­vival to mod­ders whose only in­vest­ment was time. Though in 2008 Bethesda

dab­bled in en­vi­ron­men­tal threats with Fall­out 3’ s ra­di­a­tion hotspots, the dan­ger was static and over­come sim­ply by be­ing will­ing to buy or scav­enge enough drugs to see you through. In Skyrim’s frozen north, you can swim among ice­bergs with­out even get­ting goose­bumps – un­less, that is, you in­stall D David ‘Chesko’ Pierce’s hy­pother­mia, camp­ing and sur­vival mod, Frost­fall.

“Bethesda makes great games, and if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be mak­ing the mods that we’re mak­ing to­day,” Pierce says. “But they have this pat­tern where they like to de­sign me­chan­ics that be­come ob­so­lete once you reach a cer­tain level. I wanted to de­sign some­thing that cut across skill lev­els, cut across char­ac­ter lev­els and still re­mained rel­e­vant.”

In Pierce’s eyes, Frost­fall is the so­lu­tion to a de­sign prob­lem, not a new hur­dle for masochists. It aims to ex­pand the fan­tasy, to give mean­ing to storms and hunt­ing and do jus­tice to the mas­ter­ful vis­ual wilder­ness of Skyrim. When the en­vi­ron­ment rises against you, each jour­ney be­comes an adventure. On its com­ple­tion, Frost­fall 3.0 will be mod­u­lar, split­ting off camp­ing, hy­pother­mia and ba­sic needs to al­low its adopters fine con­trol over the strug­gle of sub­sis­tence.

“Most play­ers want an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pierce tells us. “They don’t want a re­al­is­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. They’re two dif­fer­ent things. In an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, you’re de­liv­er­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence as you would like it to be. This is the Hol­ly­wood ver­sion of re­al­ity; it’s re­al­ity plus. There are other things that you don’t want to care about. It would be re­al­is­tic to make a game like this where you have to worry about pee­ing. It wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be fun, it wouldn’t be im­mer­sive, but it [would be] re­al­is­tic.”

Im­mer­sion has an­other name among psy­chol­o­gists: pres­ence. It’s an area of par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion in nascent me­dia psy­chol­ogy, be­cause un­pick­ing the hu­man brain’s abil­ity to sus­pend dis­be­lief when con­fronted with the worlds of film, tele­vi­sion and games sug­gests new ways to en­gage au­di­ences and forge more be­liev­able – if not nec­es­sar­ily re­al­is­tic – me­dia.

Werner Wirth’s 2007 pa­per Run­ning Head: Spa­tial Pres­ence The­ory at­tempts to unify frac­tured pres­ence the­o­ries from a field where the sub­ject mat­ter is evolv­ing quickly. His team pro­poses that sit­ting down to play the likes of Skyrim prompts your brain to start con­struct­ing a model (tech­ni­cally termed a ‘spa­tial sit­u­a­tion model’) of the fan­tasy land built from ob­ser­va­tions and your as­sump­tions. Your brain then makes var­i­ous checks against this model. If its hy­pothe­ses are not rudely punc­tured – by the game re­ject­ing your in­ter­ac­tion, or clip­ping through a rock, say – your mind can en­ter­tain the be­lief that you’re trot­ting about High Hroth­gar do­ing un­speak­able things to dragons, AKA a state of ‘spa­tial pres­ence’. Th­ese are the same sys­tems by which the brain ac­cepts that real life is in­deed real.

To main­tain this men­tal model, a game must com­mand your at­ten­tion. In this in­stance, sen­sory depth (the vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion you have to process) trumps sen­sory breadth (the num­ber of chan­nels by which in­for­ma­tion is con­veyed, which is typ­i­cally just au­dio and vis­ual streams for games). In games where you’re re­quired to scan the land­scape and stay alert for food sources or de­scend­ing bl­iz­zards, your at­ten­tion be­comes locked to the vir­tual world, at least un­til more press­ing sen­sa­tions in­ter­rupt be­cause you haven’t drained your blad­der in six hours. How­ever, fa­tigue in the face of in­for­ma­tion over­load is a risk, and per­haps this is why Mis­ery dropouts jet­ti­son them­selves from Aarøe’s mil­i­taris­ti­cally pre­cise Pripyat.

In the the­ory, the in­ter­nal con­sis­tency of in­for­ma­tion is more im­por­tant than how true to life it is. To use Pierce’s ex­am­ple, no sur­vival game yet re­quires you to nip be­hind a bush ev­ery few hours to re­lieve your­self, and your brain ac­cepts the world nonethe­less. Come across a chunk of ob­vi­ously miss­ing ter­rain, how­ever, and the del­i­cate model you’ve built in your head im­plodes.

Other fac­tors in cre­at­ing spa­tial pres­ence are your will­ing­ness to sus­pend dis­be­lief and abil­ity to fill the blanks with real-life ex­pe­ri­ence. Fewer gaps are bet­ter, but where they do ex­ist, the less of a leap re­quired, the less risk there is of be­ing snapped back to re­al­ity. So, ac­cord­ing to this model, sur­vival is uniquely im­mer­sive: it de­mands con­stant at­ten­tion and, far from be­ing a de­ter­rent, the familiar na­ture of sub­sis­tence tasks means there’s less work for your brain to do in con­vinc­ing you that the dis­as­ter sce­nario you now in­habit is more than the sum of its pix­els.

Based on what we know about the brain, it seems more odd that sur­vival and its en­chant­ing psy­chol­ogy re­mained in the cus­tody of mod­ders for so long. How­ever, it may be pre­cisely that open, have-a-go ap­proach that en­abled th­ese ideas to es­cape ob­scu­rity and achieve crit­i­cal genre-form­ing mass. When Steam opened the way to self-pub­lish­ing with Green­light and Early Ac­cess, democratis­ing devel­op­ment still fur­ther in the same year as Fargo’s Kick­starter suc­cess, com­mu­nity fig­ures again took the lead. Although he’s now moved on from mak­ing DayZ in or­der to found his own stu­dio, Rock­etWerkz,

Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall un­der­stands the re­al­i­ties of bring­ing an un­proven fan project to mar­ket.

“I can’t say who they are,” Hall says, “but I was about to do a press con­fer­ence and I asked some­one back­stage, who was work­ing on quite a fa­mous game also very known for modding, about [sur­vival me­chan­ics]. And they said to me that they ini­tially looked [into] do­ing it, but they just couldn’t. Pub­lisher-wise, it was a huge risk. Be­fore DayZ came out, imag­ine you pitched DayZ to a pub­lisher. They’d say you were crazy! And, in fact, I did have peo­ple say, ‘You’re to­tally crazy for do­ing that.’”

The cul­tural jug­ger­naut that is Minecraft will have smashed the re­sis­tance of many cred­i­tors to open games in which player choice is para­mount. Even at its most ba­sic, the game hands the player a tool­box and tells them not to die. Hall, how­ever, is scep­ti­cal of the mileage in truly di­rec­tion­less sur­vival.

“If I play Minecraft, and I’m build­ing stuff, why am I build­ing it? There’s no risk! I don’t know why so many

“BE­FORE DAYZ CAME OUT, IMAG INE YOU PITCHED DAYZ TO A PUB­LISHER. THEY’D SAY YOU WERE CRAZY!”

“GAMES IN GEN­ERAL DON’T NEED TO OF­FER ES­CAPISM EN­TIRELY. WHY CAN’T THEY COM­MENT ON RE­AL­ITY?”

other peo­ple can just play those games, be­cause I can’t. I need a rea­son! If I’m try­ing to sur­vive, I think it’s so much more pow­er­ful if you have con­text. If you look at DayZ, the rea­son is you’re com­pet­ing with ev­ery­one else. Mul­ti­player kind of gives you con­text built in.”

Com­pe­ti­tion isn’t al­ways com­pul­sion enough, how­ever, and nearly all mod­ern sur­vival games con­ceal a damp psy­cho­log­i­cal squib sev­eral hours in. The re­lease of dopamine in the brain is what keeps us eat­ing, hav­ing sex, de­vel­op­ing skills and play­ing games. Hu­mans get high on win­ning. An­i­mals of all sorts change their be­hav­iour in re­sponse to suc­cess and fail­ure, though, as Bur­rhus Skin­ner’s oper­ant con­di­tion­ing shows: if an ac­tion re­sults in re­in­force­ment or pun­ish­ment, we al­ter the form, fre­quency or strength of the be­hav­iour as a re­sult.

Jamie Madigan’s ‘Gold Rush’ ( E276) elab­o­rated on the ad­dic­tive ef­fects of brain chem­istry in the con­text of ran­dom loot drops, wherein re­ward de­fies pre­dic­tion just enough to keep your neu­rons un­load­ing dopamine. Ev­ery sur­vival game trains you thus. Search each shack you pass and you might just come across some canned peaches. Con­grat­u­la­tions, have a hit.

It’s the way th­ese ran­dom dis­cov­er­ies are as­signed value by the mind that makes sur­vival games both pe­cu­liar and trou­ble­some. In an MMOG, new pieces of gear can of­fer con­crete im­prove­ment and ev­ery loot drop is ex­cit­ing be­cause it might make you even bet­ter able to achieve char­ac­ter-im­prov­ing loot drops in fu­ture. This is pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment, the game de­liv­er­ing re­ward­ing stim­uli on the per­for­mance of cer­tain be­hav­iour. In the­ory, the loop can be sus­tained in­def­i­nitely; it’s the rea­son World Of

War­craft ex­pan­sions slap big­ger, more en­tic­ing num­bers on ev­ery­thing. Canned peaches present no longterm so­lu­tions, but stave off fail­ure, and so the hit of find­ing them is bol­stered by avoid­ing pun­ish­ment in the form of the re­moval of re­ward­ing stim­uli. In other words, be­cause you have peaches, the game won’t take away all your stuff.

It’s a for­mi­da­ble psy­cho­log­i­cal loop, which en­ables sur­vival games to pro­voke a rush from os­ten­si­bly bor­ing tasks. But it’s un­sus­tain­able. As you gather more re­sources, the threat dis­si­pates, leav­ing your men­tal model to meekly de­flate. For games in which the sole ob­jec­tive is to ex­ist, there is a crit­i­cal mass of sup­plies be­yond which star­va­tion or want are ir­rel­e­vant. You be­come un­touch­able, and as the po­ten­tial for pun­ish­ment di­min­ishes, the dopamine flow that re­in­forces re­source gath­er­ing dries up.

“I do think it’s a flaw in the for­mula,” Hall says. “If I can’t lose, it de­stroys my im­mer­sion. I’m just this vac­uum cleaner col­lect­ing stuff! I hope I can fig­ure out how to de­sign against that. It’s a prob­lem I have with a lot of sur­vival games, in­clud­ing my own, and I be­lieve the an­swer is con­text. I need to make you care about what’s hap­pen­ing be­yond sur­vival.”

Con­text to make us care was 11 Bit Stu­dios’ start­ing point for This War Of Mine, which presents it­self as an anti-war war game and in­vites you to live out the hor­rors en­dured by civil­ians in con­flict. It’s one of des­per­ately few games in which war lacks he­roes and clear moral vic­tors, chal­leng­ing your will to live out a siege at the ex­pense of your hu­man­ity. Strip out the bleak story, how­ever, and you can see familiar cogs turn­ing: This War Of Mine con­forms to our sur­vival rules.

“It was a game about war and about civil­ians,” says de­sign direc­tor Michal Droz­dowski, “so the whole sur­vival thing ac­tu­ally came af­ter think­ing about the sub­ject [mat­ter] and think­ing about what the peo­ple dur­ing a war have to strug­gle with. It’s a very nat­u­ral thing that peo­ple in war have to sur­vive.”

“We were con­vinced that we should not be think­ing of the game as a spe­cific ex­am­ple of the sur­vival genre,” says se­nior writer Pawel Miechowski. What This War Of Mine achieves is akin to how

Frost­fall casts sur­vival as a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem: its sub­sis­tence me­chan­ics work to re­in­force a theme, as op­posed to be­ing the theme. This pro­vides the in­ter­nal con­sis­tency that en­ables the men­tal mod­els of spa­tial pres­ence the­ory to be­come our tem­po­rary re­al­ity.

“When you start to play this game, there is, for me, this re­ally hard truth be­hind it,” art direc­tor Prze­mek

Marszal says. “Ev­ery one of us has this nat­u­ral sur­vival in­stinct. For ex­am­ple, my brother was so con­vinced that this was re­ally true, and he was so truly sad that this can hap­pen, that I think the game con­nected with this will to sur­vive. You go into This War Of Mine and you be­lieve in it. Games in gen­eral don’t need to of­fer es­capism en­tirely. Why can’t they com­ment on re­al­ity?”

Last long enough with­out buck­ling un­der the weight of your atroc­i­ties in This War Of Mine and you’ll see a cease­fire. This is sur­vival with a pur­pose, sur­vival to con­vey a mes­sage, sur­vival with de­fined lim­its sup­ported for the du­ra­tion by the threat of heart-rend­ing neg­a­tive pun­ish­ment. Ev­ery corpse frisked and friend lost messes with your brain chem­istry.

Lis­ten­ing to Hall speak of a need to con­tex­tu­alise sur­vival af­ter rum­mag­ing in its in­nards for years is like hear­ing the tide, hav­ing surged to its high point on the shore, begin to suck and rush back­wards. Sur­vival as a genre is a cu­rio, dredged up along­side old-school RPGs thanks to a fate­ful con­junc­tion of crowd­fund­ing, Steam Green­light and the whims of fash­ion. It’s telling that its prior ex­is­tence is a mys­tery to many of the pri­mal thrill seek­ers hun­gry to test their mas­tery over the wilds. Only now, af­ter two years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with this fam­ily of psy­choac­tive me­chan­ics, are the lim­i­ta­tions of sur­vival for its own sake be­com­ing clear. Rather than sub­mit to an­other pe­riod of ob­scu­rity, though, sur­vival me­chan­ics and their open com­mu­nity her­itage are pro­vid­ing clear ref­er­ence for games hop­ing to im­merse play­ers in the darker side of hu­man be­hav­iour. The Steam crowd is ap­ply­ing the sur­vival brand ever more freely, in­cor­po­rat­ing games with sto­ries, mes­sages and def­i­nite ends, and so it seems that this patch­work genre is a long way from fin­ished.

The Frost­fall (left) and Mis­ery (above) mods both in­crease dif­fi­culty in the name of im­mer­sion. DayZ (be­low) is tough, too, but it em­pha­sises so­cial dy­nam­ics and com­pe­ti­tion

FROM TOP Dean Hall, cre­ator of DayZ; Mis­ery lead Ni­co­lai Aarøe; David Pierce, the indie dev who made Frost­fall

ThisWarOfMine (top) is built on sur­vival me­chan­ics, but Strand­edDeep (above) is a more pro­to­typ­i­cal ex­am­ple. Res­i­dent Evil sold sur­vival as a theme nearly 20 years ago

FROM TOP 11 Bit’s Michal Droz­dowski, Prze­mek Marszal and Pawel Miechowski. All had se­nior roles on ThisWarOfMine

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