Over recent years, there seems to have been a lot of moral navel gazing regarding the survivalist sub-genre of games. Apparently, The Forest, 7 Days to Die and Rust (to name but a few) are just murder simulators. Some cursory research shows a myriad of similar titles available, that offer comparable game dynamics, driven by equally questionable moral imperatives. Although such titles are a niche market, they seem to be a popular and lucrative offshoot from traditional gaming. The perennial question seems to be do these games facilitate abhorrent behaviour? Are they a haven for sociopaths? Or is it all just a means for lazy games journalist to indulge in cheap hyperbole and gain easy web traffic? My instincts and sceptical nature tend to suspect the latter. However, my curiosity has been piqued and I want to find out first-hand what these games have to offer and what sort of communities exist around them.
MMOs are a genre of game that are based on group interaction. By their very nature these games often attract people who like to share, mentor, help and establish communities. The rather trite phrase "care bear" has grown out of this phenomenon. MMOs are often placed on the opposite end of the spectrum to PVP orientated gameplay. However, I do not think that all positive social behaviour in MMOs is due to an inherently righteous mindset. In the past, my collaborative endeavours in many games has often been driven by necessity and not some moral compulsion to be nice to my fellow man. Positive interaction with others is simply a means to an end. A way to achieve the goals. These games do not offer any alternative mechanics that deliver similar results. Therefore, I have to follow a specific course of action although it is not born of altruism.
However, post-apocalyptic survival games offer different means for players to achieve their own personal goals. The “problem” is that these alternative routes are frequently perceived as morally ambiguous. Furthermore, there is often the assertion that behaving abhorrently in a game is somehow a litmus test of a player’s true nature in the real world. Patently, this is flawed thinking and a classic example of complex ideas requiring in-depth research and consideration, being presented as a binary choice. Something that is the norm these days. Now I would be a fool to suggest that the survival genre does not have its share of socially and emotionally maladjusted individuals. It patently does, as has the rest of gaming. But it would be crass to tar all players with the same brush. Survival games offer a challenge both tactically and logistically, once you look beyond their ethics.
Sadly, we live in an age obsessed with value judgements and perceived personal morality. Pigeon holes and labels abound. Thus, this genre has been subject to a great deal of negative publicity and is often an easy target for those seeking the moral high ground. Perhaps that’s why I’m attracted to such games. Just so I can take a contrary view to the self-righteous. Sadly, I have not played any of these aforementioned games so far. Solo play is not the best way to experience them. A nomadic existence in a predatory game is far harder than being part of an organised group. However, this may shortly change as I’ve recent acquired a bundle of games that includes Rust. So, I am contemplating a social experiment. It would be interesting to find a group of players and spend some time exploring the game. Will principles and morals prevail over the law of the Jungle?
I make no bones about the fact that I relish a degree of virtual abhorrent behaviour. I've never really considered myself to be an especially "good" or "bad" person. I exist between the two extremes of moral behaviour like every other human being I know. I also think there is some merit in the concept of catharsis and I wish to see if that is a factor with such games. So, I shall install Rust tomorrow and spend some time researching the basics and familiarising myself with the game. I shall then see if there is a community to join and see if I can become part of an organised group of some kind. At the very least all this will provide a degree of self-contemplation and a blog post (or two). I also think there is the scope to have some fun. Although, exactly what the nature of that "fun" is remains to be seen.