Gamercamp - DayZ - Featured

Gamercamp: Don’t Even Breathe

DayZ’s fresh take on the overcrowded zombie genre

Gamercamp - DayZ - Dean "Rocket" Hall

This is a digital version of a story that appeared in the print publication of Gamercamp Magazine. Dork Shelf is Gamercamp’s official media sponsor. Gamercamp takes place in Toronto from Nov. 3-4. For more details, click here.

Over one million people have experienced DayZ, the terrifying and terrific modification based on the military simulation game ARMA II that transformed its world into a zombie-infested nightmare. Upon starting the game, players find themselves on a mysterious island with few resources for survival. Players have to tread the land carefully, as the zombies (the “zeds” in DayZ) are listening and watching: their undead senses are
slightly dulled, but once they hear or see you, they’ll attack.

The emphasis on the senses is one way DayZ sets itself apart from other zombie games, a genre that has become overwhelmingly popular. Two gauges on-screen allow players to keep track of how much noise they’re making and whether they are in view of danger. The stakes become higher as players weigh how to make it out of an encounter alive: laying still in the grass as a zombie slowly shuffles by is enough to give even seasoned survival horror players the chills.

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As with classic zombie films like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later, which used the undead for social commentary, the genius of DayZ is in showing how humans become beasts themselves in their pursuit of survival. In a game, these ideas are put to the test. Like the humans in The Walking Dead, some in DayZ have adopted a military complex by banding together, forming a hierarchy, and bullying lone players, creating a vividly scary microcosm of desperation and power struggles. (An online guide suggests that players hide the slain bodies of zombies to prevent alerting bandits of their presence.) Which is deadlier, the game seems to ask: the once-human undead or those who have become barely human?

2013 will see the release of a standalone DayZ. Building upon the game’s initial success, the new version has been suggested to include a new map, the introduction of hand-to-hand combat, and, interestingly, the introduction of dogs to act as companions for players. Cranking up the intensity will be a diary system that will allow players to leave notes to one another, remaining for others to read after the writer has fled or died. It’s not difficult to imagine players using the notes to both help and hinder others.

The infatuation with zombies shows no signs of slowing. Luckily, games like DayZ are pushing the genre by remembering the human element, evolving into something more complex and yet also relatable. Ultimately, feeling like this virtual world matters makes it that much scarier.

DayZ lead developer Dean Hall will be speaking Saturday at Gamercamp in the main theatre. The DayZ mod for ARMA II is available on Steam and the standalone version will be released in 2013.

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