ByPeter Moulding, writer at Creators.co
"How the little piglets would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffered."
Peter Moulding

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a game in which it's just you in the wilderness and you’re up against all the odds: the weather, wild animals, disease, hunger and possibly zombies? In the last few years the popularity of games, or games in which the main goal or objective is to survive, has grown massively. They are some of the most highly anticipated and played games on . However, these games are still a massive enigma for a lot of people.

Seriously though, what is their attraction? Survival games are usually lacking any sort of plot, other characters or (sometimes) action, and yet myself and so many of you are still drawn towards them. So, what is it about these that get us excited?

Why Do Gamers Love Survival Games? Simplicity

The simple life. [Credits: Starnded Deep/ Beam Team Games]
The simple life. [Credits: Starnded Deep/ Beam Team Games]

At the beginning of The Long Dark, a game developed by Hinterland Studio Inc., players are placed randomly somewhere in the great boundless Canadian wilderness. First thing you’ll notice is that it’s real cold out here. Just check your survival screen and it’ll show you something like -17C. It’ll also show you how fatigued you are, how cold you feel, how hungry you are, how thirsty you are and how many calories left until you die—and you will die.

The Long Dark is pretty much the epitome of what makes up a traditional survival game, and it’s probably the best offering of it out there too. It’s you against the elements, and “all the threats Mother Nature can muster.” Your aim, obviously, is to find shelter, food and fend off wild animals, which make the objectives of this game seem somewhat thinned out or empty when compared with saving the world or becoming a great hero.

But this is the point of the survival genre. Not only do they want you to compare with other games, but they want you to relish in that comparison. Usually in games, running will reduce your energy bar and soon you’ll have to stop for a few seconds and wait for it to replenish. In The Long Dark, every single thing you do will reduce your calorie count, even sleeping and building a fire. And, to replenish those calories, you’ll have to find food, which will also cost you calories. Surviving is a feat in itself—just like it would be in a real life situation.

In Stranded Deep, a game which starts off much like any traditional Cast Away wannabe does, the emphasis on surviving is placed on how accomplished you are at crafting and being imaginative with your inventory. You’ll have to paddle your way to the nearest procedurally generated island and then collect wood and rocks to craft a hut, a weapon and a fire. It always feels really good when you do manage to craft something that’s going to keep you alive that little bit longer.

Will your people survive? [Credits: Banished/ Shining Rock Software LLC]
Will your people survive? [Credits: Banished/ Shining Rock Software LLC]

There are countless games like these and even some that break into the traditional strategy genre such as Banished, a game where you’ll manage a small group of medieval folk and try to get them through the next winter or the inevitable poor harvest. With survival games though, it is all about strategy. In a game that is stripped of a general plot or other characters, the twists, turns and thrills arrive through your own life or death decisions. The choice of what to eat and when, what to craft and how and where to move to are all simple, but deeply strategic decisions.

That Drive To Survive Is Somewhere In Our DNA, And It's Thrilling

A whole world of nope right there. [Credits: The Forest/ Endnight Games Ltd.]
A whole world of nope right there. [Credits: The Forest/ Endnight Games Ltd.]

Some survival games try and mix the traditional elements with some sort of terrifying catalyst—such as naked cannibals—to tap into those primitive instincts that are locked away inside all of us. Fear is at the absolute heart of The Forest. Yes, it is a survival game, which means you will have to build a fire to keep warm and a hut to sleep in, as well as scavenge for food. However, the developers didn’t think this was quite enough so they introduced something similar to those strange human monster things that always totally freak me out in films.

During the day, it is all about building defenses against the genetic mutant cannibals. And, while you do this, the game world is buzzing with life and beauty. The forest in The Forest is gorgeous. You can explore it with your crafted spear and bow in hand, hunt for wild animals and fish or just sit back and watch the trees sway in the wind. However, I wouldn’t advise the latter, because what you should be doing is chopping wood, putting up palisades and putting down plenty of horrific traps.

All in a day's work. [Credits: The Forest/ Endnight Games Ltd.]
All in a day's work. [Credits: The Forest/ Endnight Games Ltd.]

As soon as the sun starts to go down your world starts to turn upside down and this is when your defenses will be put to the test. You have the choice to either bunker down and try to wait it out, or you can bring the fight to the enemy. Either way, the experience will tap into that fight-or-flight feeling that only really appears nowadays if we see a massive spider running across the living room floor. It is a terribly simple experience, running away from cannibals, but it is thoroughly ‘enjoyable’ and utterly thrilling.

Because We All Love To Speculate About How We'd Survive A 'Zombie Apocalypse'

I'd get the flock out of there. [Credits: State of Decay/ Undead Labs]
I'd get the flock out of there. [Credits: State of Decay/ Undead Labs]

Pretty much after every zombie movie I watch with my friends there will be a period of about an hour where we are boasting, explaining and going into great detail about our own ‘zombie apocalypse’ plan. Everybody has one. Mine is to get out of the city as soon as possible, for the simple reason that cities are population hubs and all the zombies will probably waste away weeks eating each other there—giving me time to find a nice little hut in Norway and wait for it all to blow over.

These games combine many of the elements I have already discussed about traditional survival games and incorporate zombies into the experience. The big difference here though is with the setting; I have noticed that most zombie survival games want you to explore as much as possible. The settings are usually massive open worlds and sometimes with other players. Why? Because just like in the movies, part of the thrill in staying alive is all about how well you get along with your band of survivors and strangers you meet on the road.

Long day ahead killing zombies. [Credits: DayZ/ Bohemia Interactive]
Long day ahead killing zombies. [Credits: DayZ/ Bohemia Interactive]

In DayZ, for example, players will have a 230 sq. km chunk of a post-Soviet state to knock about in, as well as 40 other players to contend or work with. In State of Decay, you have a massive open sandbox world in which to set up camp, build it into a fortification and work together with other players to form raiding parties and defense forces. These games are all about survival, but they are more about fulfilling all of our strangest and wildest ‘zombie apocalypse’ fantasies. And in that way, aren't all survival games?

Why do you think gamers are so drawn to the survival genre?

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