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Help Me Understand the Appeal of Survival Sims



I’d like to ask a favor of you. H1Z1 released last week on Steam Early Access, making it the latest of a growing number of attempts to cash in on the gargantuan success seen by “survival sims” like DayZ and Rust. I haven’t played the game, so take what I’m about to say about the genre it belongs to — you know, the one that millions of gamers flock to every year — because I just don’t get it.

More specifically, I don’t get the appeal, and I’m hoping you can help me remedy that.

I’ve dabbled in this genre a few times now, mostly with Rust. The interactions I’ve had with other players tells me roughly 4 out of 5 DayZ players are horrible human beings online, while essentially everyone in Rust is the worst. Granted, that’s based on my experience, but I have it on good authority that I’m not the only one who’s had this problem.

I get the appeal of survival sims, it’s why I’ve spent about 30 hours in Rust before I couldn’t continue to put up with the bandit mentality problem that plagues this genre. It’s reached a point where your chances of survival are basically nonexistent without a platoon of friends covering you, and even that won’t help when — not if, when — you run into one of the myriad hackers who fly around killing players and ruining unprotected bases.

The hacker problem isn’t news, and neither is people being dicks to each other. Abusing the anonymity that comes with playing games online is nothing new, I see it every time I join a match in [INSERT MODERN SHOOTER TITLE HERE] and while it’s certainly annoying, ignoring all those homophobic tweens is super effective and doesn’t require much effort on my part.

Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t work in lawless worlds like Chernarus, where there’s no easy escape from terrible people who can now have a real impact on your experience. The fact that countless hours of progress can be undone by an asshole with a gun might sound appealing to fans of Dark Souls and roguelikes. It would to me too, if there was something I could learn from it.

Death in roguelikes is a learning experience. Every death teaches me something, making me better at the game. It’s tough, but that makes each victory all the more rewarding. So what do we learn from dying over and over and over again in these games, other than some people are awful?

This genre sounds more like a metaphor for life than a game. That might even be the appeal. Maybe there are millions of people out there who have been waiting for a game to come along that’s as unforgiving as life often is, with far less rules and the reality that no matter how hard you work, it can be undone in an instant. If that’s the answer, I still don’t get it.

That leads me to my question. If you enjoy playing these games, tell me why you do in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a good reason, just your reason.