Author’s note: Or, why I love survival games. In this series, I’ll define the ‘survival’ genre as I see it. I’ll discuss open world vs structured, the importance of perma-death as a mechanic, and explore the overlap between survival and rogue-like games. This first entry is a terribly personal piece about why this genre has become so dear to me.
This year has been tough; 2016 seems to be attempting to wring the spirit out of just about everyone if you ask around. I appreciate that the people I love most are safe and healthy, so there’s that… but, damn. Between separating from my husband of 13 years, moving from a Canadian suburb to the New England countryside, attempting to teach myself to be financially literate, and the severing of a long-time friendship, I feel bruised by the year. I feel like I’m always a few steps behind where I need to be — sometimes even further than that — and impossibly far from where I want to be.
A source of escape over time, and certainly one of my strongest addictions, I’d known for awhile that I’d have to reshape my relationship with games. My reliance upon MMOs to fulfill my social needs had gotten out of hand. I spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of emotional and creative labour upon running a roleplay cabal in The Secret World, switching between any one of a dozen characters both in game and in other roleplaying venues. I mean, if you’ve ever gotten way into roleplaying the way some people get way into grinding achievements, you know how consuming this can be: your hobby becomes a borderline obsession, nearly a lifestyle. My life included The Secret World, period: I didn’t enjoy the actual mechanics. But man, did the world and lore ever make my imagination go wild, and having a smartphone sure did make it easier to squeeze roleplay into ‘downtime’ in real life.
Such as in the car, going to Costco with my family.
Or while wandering down a grocery store aisle where I didn’t need anything.
It didn’t much matter if I sat at a bench to dick around on my phone while my daughter played in a park. I didn’t have anything else to do.
And heck, while making dinner and waiting on something to cook, I could use the wifi to interact with my MMO friends, too!
That’s the thing with addictions: they seize us. Maybe we know we’re fucking up things in our lives. Maybe we know we should care but can’t. Maybe the people who love us think it’s harmless but annoying at first, but then they come to realise our ‘hobby’ is too important. By then we’ve blocked them out so thoroughly, fit these other people into our life so neatly, that there’s no going back without a massive change.
So I quit MMOs.
Too late, in my case.
Enter: survival games.
During the Steam summer sale, I sat agonising between The Long Dark and The Flame in the Flood. I wanted both, couldn’t fit both into my budget. In talking to a friend about the latter, he teased: “A girl and her dog against the world? I can’t imagine why that would appeal to you.”
That’s when it struck me – I love survival games because they’re lonely. Because it’s just me, my skills, my awareness, versus whatever tools and mechanics the developers have given me. My time, my creativity, my emotional labour: all are mine. Survival games are the polar opposite of MMOs, especially when I’d taken on positions in MMOs for the past decade where I usually had some commitment hanging over me. Commitments like some DM’d scene or RP conversation I’d promised, some event to attend in-character or some tweet to check out (and that’s only the in-character stuff… the out-of-character gets even more demanding).
Survival games, though…
Give me a universe, where I roam on my own time, owing nothing to anyone but myself, with the threat of imminent death lurking behind every decision, and I’m already imagining stories within the framework of that world. When it comes to woman vs wilderness, I’m ready to go.
I hope you’ll come along with me.