Why Do We Love Survival Games?

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For why we like survival games, I find myself thinking of how Extra Credits articulated why we like horror, and why we like stealth.

Respectively, we like horror because it provides the thrill of terror and disempowerment in a safe space. We get to feel he fear of trying to survive without putting our actual lives at risk. We like stealth because we like the feeling of triumphing despite being in a position without much power. It's still an escapist fantasy, but instead of the power fantasy of being extremely strong, it's more of a fantasy of being able to win against odds that would destroy a frontal approach. Stealth games are more like puzzle games in that sense.

I think he reason we like survival games is related to these. The whole "roughing it in the wilderness" angle draws on he idea of being in a rough situation without actually putting ourelves at risk. And if we survive the game's challenges, and especially if we find a way to thrive, it feels good, like we've succeeded in taking an extremely hostile situation, and bringing it down.

"Take that, Creepers! My solid gold tower is a monument to my victory!"

I've been following the Project Zomboid discussions over in the Steam forums. An upcoming feature is apparently the introduction of a car driving mechanics. But what I find amusing about the concept is that players approach the concept from the perspective that *they* will be the ones to have the greatest advantage, to be the "king of the hill," so to speak. Whereas having cars makes it much more likely that, after having established your safehouse/fortress, a gang of (say) forty road warriors will blow into town and murder the hell out of you.

While we are at the feasibility of "zombie virus" spread...

The "Walking Dead" series actually introduced a workaround, which is basically that the virus is airborne and everyone is already infected, the virus just waits until you are actually dead to make you, well, be less dead and more sorta move around getting all hungry for human flash. What bugs me about this "solution" is that the "bite" infections make no sense anymore, meaning that they should be no less dangerous than a bullet wound or any semi-serious injury yet everyone still treats the zombie bites as a death (ok, "undeath") sentence.

They did at one point offer some bullshit explanation, like the zombie bite has a large concentration of bacteria which greatly reduces your chance of surviving the bite which technically makes it turn you into a zombie faster, but this a) actually muddles things a bit too much kinda hurting the issue more than it helps it and b) still doesn't explain why a bite is an automatic death sentence since the "bacteria cocktail" will have different ingredients for each zombie that manages to bite you. If you are the very first victim of a new zombie who up until the zombification had a great dental hygiene than a small nibble should be approximately as dangerous as a tiny papercut. But try explaining *that* to the crazy bitch adamant to put a knife into your brain ASAP.

Yahtzee, that was a shameless, shameless, SHAMELESS plug for your "carnivorous jam" book, and you oughta be ashamed of yourself!!! Especially since the only way "carnivorous jam" can work is the way the green slime worked in the "OH MY GOOOOOOOOODDD!!!" scene from Troll 2!

Joking aside, I'd like to point out that all the GOOD zombie fiction out there either A) has zombification a process of reanimating the dead beyond zombie-bite infection (George Romero's "Living Dead" series, "The Walking Dead" franchise, etc.), making "it's only transferred via bites" not a factor, and B) has the "infected" humans be perfectly alive, just balls-to-the-walls homicidal and horde-like, like they're on a 24/7 adrenaline overdrive ("28 Days Later", "28 Weeks Later", "Left 4 Dead" series, etc.), meaning the slow speed of zombie uprising is not a factor. Your version of zombies only being able to infect humans by bites alone, while being the slow, shambling Romero types, is pretty much a hybrid only made by Max Brooks, in his "Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z" - and even HE had to make the majority of the world completely genre-blind to zombie uprisings since literally the dawn of humanity up until the aforementioned World War Z, and "The Great Panic" (i.e. everybody panicking about the end-times) did MORE damage than the zombie uprising, at least at first - and even THEN, humanity was eventually able to get it's shit together, and clean undead house once they switched tactics around to specifically fight zombies.

As for why survival games are such a popular genre, it's less the idea of being alone as it is finding an unspoiled wilderness, and carving your way into the ecology our caveman founders did millenia ago - first you play as a hunter/gatherer, using the crudest of tools to gather enough food, hold off hostile wildlife, and make a bare-bones shelter for the night, but then you get to forge better tools, build better shelters, maybe even develop agricultural, self-sustaining food supplies. Eventually, (in games like "Minecraft", at least), you can use your resources to build above-and-beyond mere survival, and build practical world wonders with the materials. Maybe the fact you do it by yourself (or a close, tight-knit survivor group like "The Last Stand: Dead Zone", or some more friendlier characters in a "DayZ" game) is mostly to direct the feeling of the accomplishment to yourself, not because all of us are really lone-wolves at heart.

Oh, and maybe it also has something to do with involving more thinking than your average "spunkgargleweewee" shoot 'em up. That too.

Even if you adjust things and make the zombies intent on creating more through bites and then moving on, and giving them a more manic profile by having them sprint, you'd still have to explain how the outbreak wasn't contained by a half-competent army. These things aren't skulking around, waiting to jump you from behind and they certainly aren't taking down a tank platoon. A horde of zombies sprinting across open ground at a heavy machine gun emplacement is going to end with a lot of disabled zombies and a negligible body count for the army. The level of incompetence required to get a modern military force to somehow get overrun by zombies would be staggering.

As for survival games, I don' understand the question really. Escapism hinges on providing difficult but safe challenges for the mind, and this can be done through a kaleidoscope of tropes/memes/stories/characters. The survival genre is just another backdrop for a set of challenges that mimic real life considerations. One might enjoy the genre because it hews so closely to reality, just as one might enjoy a book or movie that is fiction, but written to be completely believable. You may as well ask why there are any books or movies written about survivalism; there is great appeal in mimicking the difficulty of the human condition without all our conveniences that make survival trivial. It makes it all the more realistic.

It seems hardly fair questioning the escapism of survival games, when you could be playing, say, papers please.
Playing papers please actually feels like a real job I once had. The memorizing, the 'oh-shit-I-hope-I-didn't-fuck-that-up' feeling... Plus once you start playing you can't get away for several hours. At least after 8 hours of Terraria I feel like I've accomplished something,

I've always thought the idea of a nuclear apocalypse more plausible. Even if, going on Yahtzee's definition of apocalypse, it wouldn't necessarily wipe out the majority of the population. What it would do however is destroy all the institutions of modern society.

Back when I lived in a village I had it all planned out but now, living in a city on the south-east coast of the UK... I don't have much of a chance any more.

baba44713:
While we are at the feasibility of "zombie virus" spread...

The "Walking Dead" series actually introduced a workaround, which is basically that the virus is airborne and everyone is already infected, the virus just waits until you are actually dead to make you, well, be less dead and more sorta move around getting all hungry for human flash. What bugs me about this "solution" is that the "bite" infections make no sense anymore, meaning that they should be no less dangerous than a bullet wound or any semi-serious injury yet everyone still treats the zombie bites as a death (ok, "undeath") sentence.

They did at one point offer some bullshit explanation, like the zombie bite has a large concentration of bacteria which greatly reduces your chance of surviving the bite which technically makes it turn you into a zombie faster, but this a) actually muddles things a bit too much kinda hurting the issue more than it helps it and b) still doesn't explain why a bite is an automatic death sentence since the "bacteria cocktail" will have different ingredients for each zombie that manages to bite you. If you are the very first victim of a new zombie who up until the zombification had a great dental hygiene than a small nibble should be approximately as dangerous as a tiny papercut. But try explaining *that* to the crazy bitch adamant to put a knife into your brain ASAP.

TWD didn't invent that, it was the basic staple of the original Romero films (prior to which 'zombie' referred to the Haitan voodoo legend, not the present concept of zombies - even in the 1st of the Romero series, Night of the Dead, the shooting script says 'ghoul' instead of 'zombie').

In the old Romero films, nobody knows what's causing the dead to rise - the 'virus' idea is one hypothesis that some characters consider, but it's just one of many ideas that different characters come up with, ranging from the scientific (e.g. the virus idea) to the claim that it's a divine curse, and ultimately nobody actually knows (and nobody ever finds out) in any of the films.

If I recall correctly, early in Dawn of the Dead (Romero's original 1970 version, not Snyder's remake), after the military raid at the start, it's mentioned that they've already cleared all the zombies from the city several times over. Romero's central idea is that society is already on the verge of collapse under the weight of humanities worst attributes (he was a rather angry disillusioned Vietnam veteran writing towards the end of the 60s) - the zombies aren't supposed to be a threat to any well-functioning society. They're just the slight push that topples the already rotten social structure (also why in each of his films, the characters would survive easily if they could actually trust and work together (Night of the Dead, Day), suppress their tribalism and greed instead of going to war over resources when there's plenty for both sides (Dawn), or are pitted against each other in a conflict only tangentially related to the zombies (Land).

TWD (both the comic and the tv series) is a tribute to the Romero films - they're basically just taking the Romero setting, but putting it in modern time instead of having the dead start rising in the late 1960s (the time of the first film in Romero's series). The first edition of the comic has a foreword by the writer where he says that's why none of the characters will use the word 'zombie' - as it's a tribute to the Romero-verse, and in the Romero films nobody calls them zombies for the excellent reason that prior to the Romero films, the word 'zombie' had a different meaning.

I read the World War Z Comic "A History of Recorded Attacks", and they actually have outbreaks with survivors (There is one involving a Roman Legion somewhere on the edge of the Empire and one set in North Africa with the Foreign Legion where an isolated outpost survives a Zombie Outbreak for well over a year, but the survivors are not believed, and it is assumed that they lied about why they were out of contact for the time and assumed to be making up a story to get out of punishment). But the last story just blew the whole thing out of the water for me as far as believability went. The comic (I never read the book) has shown Zombies to be mindless and essentially interested only in eating living humans, to the point where instead of seeking out easier targets when they have some humans treed/holed up in a military fortress, they will continue to throw themselves at the living, inaccessible humans until they die and/or are killed. So, the last story in the comic has a zombie outbreak in Joshua Tree National Park. And one of the Zombies, the same mindless zombies the book has shown all throughout these 10+ stories set throughout history... somehow ends up driving a car from Joshua Tree National Park to Los Angeles to set off the worldwide Zombie Apocalypse that underlies the original book. And I was like "How is a mindless Zombie supposed to drive an offing car that far without being stopped or crashing?" It was stupid and didn't work and while I found that the earlier stories worked as Horror and were fairly effective, that last story killed the entire concept for me. It made no sense, and the stuff required to somehow make that whole scenario work made my brain hurt.

Even regular humans have accidents or the car runs out of gas (Good luck having a mindless zombie stopping at a gas station to pump gas or thumbing a ride from an unsuspecting driver...) but this Zombie somehow manages to do so because... the story needs him to. Whoop dee dee.

I believe there's a comedy show coming out soon where zombies are a mild everyday occurence. Life carries on as normal but some people become zombies? Found it "Death Valley" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley_%28TV_series%29

I think things like Jericho, Stephen King's The Stand, are more likely. Economic collapse, breakdown of infrastructures. At that point it'll be all about local communities banding together to survive. Realistic but not as fun and exciting as a game blasting zombies (just ask Kevin Costner about The Postman).

But why do we like survival games? Actually I don't think they're as popular as people think. They're popular in gaming culture, a predominately male consumer group when talking about PC and console games. So why do men like survival games? Because evolution demands us to. We're still carrying around masses of behavioural traits purely evolved to feel good about doing things that help us survive. Think about how pleasing it is to throw a rock at something and hit it. Your brain likes you doing things that we help you survive. Most games actually lean on these positive challenges. Shooting/throwing things, exploration and mapping, item acquisition, jumping/physical demands (see a Theory of Fun for video games by Raph Koster). A survival game has all those.

I also have a theory we like post-apocalyptic games because it gives us a space without societal bounds to explore our principals and motivations. I think it's hard to determine your identity and personality when constrained by societal expectation. Don't get too angry, but don't be too cowardly, don't be selfish, always help people, but don't get suckered in by others. A post-apocalyptic scenario lets us test our boundaries.

This article says all that I think/feel/can't stand about the whole overplayed zombie genre. Thanks Yahtzee for the first reading(first I've read at least) related or relating to zombies that was not a total waste of my time and brain. Much appreciate a real perspective.

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