It really seems like it could, doesn’t it? Well I’m not here to argue whether or not it actually could but rather, if, in a situation where you’re thrust into and open world, alone, unarmed, and surrounded by an imminent threat, the “State of Nature,” whether Locke’s or Hobbes’ would take hold. Some clarification first though – you’re not really alone, you’re in front of a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you could technically leave at any moment. That’s right, you’re playing a video game and that game is called DayZ. DayZ is a zombie survival game set in the post-Soviet state of Chernarus. A virus has turned a majority of the citizens into flesh craving zombies and you’re only goal is survival. What makes the game so fantastic is the fact that it’s online and there are other players out in the 225 kilometers-squared map you can roam around. Voice and text communication is possible which makes any player interaction unique. Maybe you’re gathering food, hear gunshots in the distance and decide to scurry off before the next bullet in that clip is deep in your chest, or perhaps you run into a player that has so much gear on them that they decide to make a gracious donation to you before running off into the wilderness. Anything is possible in such a world, but with the complete collapse of any pre-virus government and complete anonymity over the internet, what keeps the game from being a complete kill-fest? Maybe these states of nature can give us an idea.
DayZ first started up as a rather complex mod to another popular game, Arma 2. Developed by Bohemia Interactive and released in 2009, the game was really like any other military shooter, but it wasn’t until Dean “Rocket” Hall created DayZ in 2012 that the game was able to realize its full potential. This mod, thrusting players into a world of open interaction between one another with really no repercussions for acting kindly or bandit-like toward other players took the gaming world by storm. It has even been claimed to be the “Greatest Zombie Game Ever Made” in what is now and was even two years ago an over-saturated genre. Arma 2 was suddenly topping the “Best-Sellers” list on Steam, a popular client for game distribution by Valve, three years after its release. DayZ was the sole purpose. The game is fantastic to play alone or with friends, but it’s really when you’re wandering the map in complete solidarity that makes the player interactions so fascinating. In this game you are experiencing a sort of the state of nature, and while it may be hard to compare to one in real life, it may just give us an insight as to what could possibly happen if such a situation occurred in real life. Allow me to compare the theories of the three men whose works we have read to my own personal player interactions and see which hold up in this post-Apocalyptic scenario when in reality I’m sitting rather comfortably in front of my computer.
First up, Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan, suggest within that with no society come “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A couple of my play-throughs can attest to this almost word for word. When I’m playing alone and I have picked up enough survival items to make my life worth living, I am legitimately scared of seeing other armed players. More than once when I’ve seen one my heart has started beating faster (making aiming with the mouse increasingly difficult) and it’ll either climax in myself running away, myself being caught and shot, or with the opening of voice communication where we find out that both of us are equally scared of losing our stuff and would rather work together for a short time than right out kill the other. Those times I am killed prove that my life was rather solitary, poor, and short, but those times that I’ve picked up communication with the other player (which isn’t such a rare case) it almost seems to suggest another way of looking at the state of nature. John Locke, English Philosopher, disagrees with Hobbes in his Second Treatise of Government where he suggests that in such a state men keep their promises and obligations more often than not, making it, for the most part, peaceful and pleasant (though insecure at times). Once again, my DayZ experience applies, but applies only partially. I was once playing with a friend when he invited me to join a larger group of survivors that were all working together to gather supplies while protecting one another and once again, voice chat was a factor in the survival of this group. As we walked from deserted town to deserted town, taking what we could, we would occasionally come across other players and would more often than not stay out of their way so long as they stayed out of ours. We made sure we had one another’s back and didn’t mess around when it came to a bandit threat. Certain players even had roles, mine being a sort of lookout for other players using binoculars. I did my job, the others did their jobs, and we coexisted rather peacefully and pleasantly. The only problem with this was that we encountered a very large amount of bandits and even after offering to help them out we only received bullets in our direction as a reward. Sadly, it was almost safe to assume that if a player didn’t have a microphone, they were probably going to try and kill us.
I always find it interesting when I can apply something that philosophers have theorized over an idea that now applies to the games I’m playing, and this idea of the state of nature is no different.