DayZ for Days

Video games aren't just for playing.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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 encoun­ter­ing 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, of course. 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.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

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.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
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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