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Why Do We Love Survival Games?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 28 Jan 2014 12:00
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A couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a little idle speculation on what the prevalence of collateral damage in popular entertainment says about the collective mindset of the human race. Well, let's add to that speculation, like a bunch of police profilers trying to identify a serial killer, and wonder what the deal is with all these survival games.

Rust, Starbound, and 7 Days To Die are only the most recent additions to the genre, there's also Don't Starve, Sir, You Are Being Hunted, Minecraft and Terraria and all their little me-toos and the specter of [/i]Day Z[/i] poking its head into Steam recently. At first glance, the survival game's popularity is difficult to understand, even for me, and I quite enjoy them. We play games for escapist fantasy, but having to eat and stay warm and have somewhere to sleep at night isn't exactly escapist, nor is dying alone in the wilderness an attractive fantasy.

But the resoundingly clear theme of the wilderness survival game is being alone, or at least, independent from other human beings. And I can see the sense in that appealing to a new generation of heavy internet-using urban youth. These are people absolutely surrounded by other people, in towns and cities, and yet pursue a solitary existence, more at home with online companionship than physical. And in my experience, getting most of your ideas of humanity from online interaction will only fill you with increased disdain and contempt for the faceless strangers you see from your window, and increase the secret desire to die alone in the wilderness.

As I said, this often goes together with zombies, and we've closely analyzed the appeal of zombies in previous editions of this column. We all love our zombie walks, don't we? We love to speculate on what our survival plans would be in a zombie apocalypse scenario. It's all the appeal of the wilderness survival scenario, but it's also on familiar turf and you don't have to move anywhere.

I have to admit I do find it irritating when people talk about what they'll do after the zombie apocalypse. For the obvious reason that, an apocalypse being what it is, you will almost certainly be dead. The definition of apocalypse is the majority of the population being dead, and last time I checked, 'majority' is likely to include you and me and everyone we know. Probability's working against you. Those of you that aren't killed in the initial sweep won't last very long simply because you're here, procrastinating and reading internet articles, when you could be doing dead lifts or learning how to make fire without matches.

But the other reason talk of zombie apocalypse irritates me is because a zombie virus would never actually cause an outbreak on a large enough scale to infect the majority of humanity. And I don't say that with any kind of fierce scientific background. This is just with a basic employment of logic. First of all, there's already a bite-transmittable disease that makes sufferers really angry, namely rabies, and rabies has not infected the majority of the population. HIV has infected more people, and biting someone is far less work than seducing them.

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