DayZ for Days

Video games aren't just for playing.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Yes, I prefer DayZ streams to Netflix, HBO, and Prime.

I’ve spent a couple of hundred hours with a post-apocalyptic zombie survival game named DayZ.

However, I’m not a gamer.
And I haven’t played a single minute of DayZ.

I’ve been watching streamers play DayZ on Twitch and YouTube. I’ve fallen in love with the game, but I still have no intention of ever picking it up and playing it myself.

I wonder, what’s the attraction?
And how common is this type of media behaviour?

Here goes:

What’s DayZ?

Never heard of DayZ? A short while ago, I hadn’t either. DayZ isn’t a game on par with franchises like Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, CounterStrike, Fortnite, Battlefield, Pokémon, Overwatch, and World of WarCraft, to name a few.

DayZ for Days - In-game footage
Credit: TopeREC thumbnail by DanceOfJesus.

Let’s break DayZ down to give you an idea:

DayZ is an open-world game. There’s a large map, and the players can go anywhere and do anything. As such, DayZ is a sandbox game.

Moreover, it’s an online multiplayer game. Typically, each rendered map allows 64 simultaneous players where any events (such as storms, gas leaks, helicopter crashes etc. are controlled by the server). That’s a lot of people, but each map is enormous. A typical map is 200–300 km2, so you could play for hours without running into another player.

The game is also a first-person shooter (FPS). Aim and shoot from a first-person perspective. It all takes place in barren areas with rundown buildings and military bases.

DayZ is also a post-apocalyptic survival game. With zombies. Players must keep track of their hydration, food intake, injuries, infections, temperature, and blood. There’s an intricate inventory system, and adding more weight slows your character down. Things break, and you might get a terminal brain disease if you stay alive by eating human flesh.

And finally, DayZ is a loot-based game. You spawn into the world with light clothes, bandages, and an apple. From there, you need to use whatever you find to survive.

Read also: Zombie Apocalypse Survival Skills for PR Professionals

Riveting Entertainment

DayZ doesn’t have a clear objective. There’s no way to beat the game. Players try to stay alive for as long as possible, but sooner or later, everyone dies and gets to start over. You get a new random character and lose all your gear as you die and respawn.

The surviving and dying loop is endless. You can be friendly and help other players. Or you can kill them and take their gear. There’s no right or wrong.

As a player, you need a microphone because other people will see you as suspicious and a potential risk if you can’t communicate. You’ll likely shoot a player on the spot if the player fails to respond.

The gameplay is relatively slow. A player might travel great distances through desolate plains and forests.

One of my favourite DayZ streamers swam to an island, and I watched a swimming animation for half an hour while the streamer talked about his dog.

Riveting entertainment, weirdly enough.

Still Going Strong

DayZ isn’t exactly a new game, either. Arma 2 was a military simulator game released by Bohemia Interactive in 2009. Like some games, Arma 2 supported modding, allowing developers to add their maps and rules to the game. One such mod was DayZ.

Dean Hall released the DayZ mod to Arma 2 in April 2012 to much critical acclaim. Though it was just a mod, Eurogamer called it the best zombie game ever. Bohemia Interactive brought Dean Hall on board and had him begin work on DayZ as a standalone game.

The standalone DayZ was pre-leased to Windows users in 2014 but not widely launched until 2019. The development phase was focused on innovation:

“I hope I implement a lot of bad ideas. So that then, we know they are bad. Then we can remove them and move on. If we stick to safe ideas, this isn’t going to become a great game over the next few months—it will just be a cool idea, and I’ll try and spend the next ten years going around conventions talking about how cool it was. I’d rather follow all the dead ends so I know what works and what doesn’t.”
— Dean Hall, the lead designer of DayZ

Die-hard fans are playing the game today, and new mods are being added.

Players have random encounters, team up, share food, tend to each others’ wounds, fight for survival against other players fighting for theirs, and new friends die too soon or suddenly—and you never get to talk with them again. 1Since DayZ encounters are random, players refrain from sharing their real names. It’s the safest route on a multiplayer platform, just as it’s the safest approach when meeting strangers in a … Continue reading

Twitch streamers and YouTube creators make a living from playing the game. I, and other non-gamers, get to watch.

A Different Immersion

So, what’s the appeal of watching someone else play a game you will never buy or play?

I don’t think many mainstream media consumers understand the immersion of getting to know a particular player, appreciating their playstyle and personality, and sharing their unscripted adventures in real-time.

The comments are typically overflowing with positivity. Fans find the gameplay more entertaining, exciting and engaging than acclaimed television series and blockbuster movies. They praise the creator for improving their days, getting them through tough times, and making them laugh and cry.

Gameplay gives audiences something traditional television can’t: serendipitous drama and real-time human connection.

“It’s the most multiplayer game of all multiplayer games. […] Nothing can replicate the openness and randomness of what can happen when you meet other people. I’m 5,000 hours in, and I still have things happening that have never happened to me before, and I don’t know any other game that can hold my interest like that.”
TheRunningManZ, Twitch streamer and YouTube creator

And streaming audiences are ready to put their money where their mouth is; a popular Twitch streamer will have generous donations constantly flowing for hours. We know because donations are typically rewarded with an on-screen animation, forever making them a small part of the story.

Still, perhaps gameplay-watching should be considered a fringe media phenomenon. Maybe Netflix, HBO, and Prime shouldn’t worry.

Or maybe they should.

Gaming’s Got Talent

Many believe that only gamers like to watch other gamers play. They think you must be a gamer to watch someone else play a game. But I’m no gamer, which makes me think.

As an industry, gaming has surpassed Hollywood and the world of sports. Looking for the world’s best storytellers, world-builders, visual artists, and content creators? Look no further than gaming.

I’d go so far as to suggest that modern television franchises like House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power fail to impress some audiences since they cannot offer the same fantasy immersion as, say, Skyrim or Elden Ring.

I understand that this might be hard to believe. Still, by watching DayZ for hundreds of hours, I’ve experienced excitement, heartbreak, action, randomness, and friendship in the most fantastic storytelling arcs rivalling (and surpassing) anything I’d otherwise watch on television.

With games and gaming technology continuously improving, storytelling and immersion will follow suit. As a non-gamer consuming game content, I might belong to a rare public.

But I wouldn’t bet on “game-watching for non-gamers” remaining a fringe activity forever.

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Since DayZ encounters are random, players refrain from sharing their real names. It’s the safest route on a multiplayer platform, just as it’s the safest approach when meeting strangers in a post-apocalyptic world.

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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The Borg Complex refers to a specific form of technological determinism, but in my case, it's also a psychological fallacy.
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