Three men stand on a deserted street, their hands in the air. One wears a green T-shirt and a motorcycle helmet. The others wear bright yellow down jackets. They are surrounded by four armed men.
“Gentlemen,” a man called Klyka says, “we are going to play a very interesting game.”
He commands the hostages to drop their axes, then continues.
“This is DayZ,” he says. “Someone always has to die when players meet. But we’re going to make this interesting.”
He directs the men in yellow to sit cross-legged, 20 yards from each other, axes midway between them. There can be only one yellow jacket in this group, he says. The two men consider what he says. Klyka goes on. “When I shoot in the air you guys will run for your axes, and you’ll try to grab them.” The last man standing, he says, will be released.
Dying in DayZ isn’t like dying in other videogames. The game, developed by Bohemia Interactive, has “configured death with an extreme level of consequentiality not found in other online first-person-shooters,” researchers at the University of Melbourne wrote last year. “Unlike other FPS games, in which death is a minor 2-10 second setback before rematerialization, death in DayZ involves the permanent death of this character, and loss of all items and advancement.”
In other words, death is about as real as it can be in a digital realm. You die, and it’s literally game over. This, the authors write, has the effect of “intensifying social interactions, raising a player’s perceived level of investment and invoking moral dilemmas.” More than that, though, it raises an interesting question about how and why we behave as we do in a game like DayZ, and what that says about us.
Klyka doesn’t appear the slightest bit morally distraught. He’s quite obviously having fun. Having laid out the rules for his deadly game, he begins counting down. Three. Two. One.
One yellow jacket guy rushes toward his axe. The other turns and sprints down the road. One of Klyka’s men—who had been filming the scene for YouTube—calmly lowers his camera, raises his rifle and peers through the scope. He fires a single shot to the man’s head. Klyka and his crew laugh.
If this were real, you’d think they were psychopaths. And what about DayZ, and games like it, makes them behave as if they are?